Too Politically Toxic? Even Ron Wyden Distances Himself From Individual Mandate

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been a long-time supporter of an individual mandate requiring everyone to buy private health insurance. It was a key part of the Healthy Americans Act that Wyden co-sponsored with Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT). In fact, the individual mandate in the Healthy Americans Act was much stronger and more expansive than the one in the new health care law. Despite his being a long-time promoter of the individual mandate, Sam Stein at the Huffington Post has noticed that Wyden seems to be putting some distance between himself and the highly unpopular provision.

Stein highlights this passage in Wyden’s letter to Oregon’s Health Authority office about his efforts to try to move up the start date for state innovation waivers from 2017 to 2014:

In addition, Senate Finance Committee Counsel has stated that a state that can meet the general coverage requirements of the PPACA can obtain a Federal waiver under Section 1332 without a requirement that individuals purchase health insurance. Because you and I believe that the heart of real health reform is affordability and not mandates, I wanted to bring this feature of Section 1332 to the attention of you and the legislature.

Changing from a long-time backer of an individual mandate to actually suggesting that Oregon’s state legislature look at ways to prevent the individual mandate from ever going into effect seems like a noticeable policy shift.

Wyden’s modest attempt to back away from the individual mandate probably is good politics. It also shows his willingness to listen to the will of the voters. The concept of the government forcing you to buy a product from unpopular private insurance companies is almost universally opposed by voters. The recent Kaiser tracking poll found that 80 percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of the policy and a solid majority view it very unfavorably. Given that it is entirely possible to provide universal health insurance using health care systems that don’t include an individual mandate forcing individuals to buy from private insurers, it seems foolish to defend the concept. Even from a policy perspective, the bulk of the evidence from around the world doesn’t indicate that an individual mandate-based health care system performs better than alternatives like single payer.

We can only hope that Wyden’s recent shift away from the individual mandate is a sign that the Democratic Party is beginning to acknowledge what a massive political and policy mistake they made. Americans are unhappy that the new health care law contains a provision using the IRS to force individuals to buy insurance from the unpopular private health insurance industry without alternatives like a public option.

If only there had been a group of progressives, armed with polling data and workable alternative proposals, who could have warned Congressional Democrats how politically toxic the individual mandate would be especially without a public option. Oh wait…

Too Politically Toxic? Even Ron Wyden Distances Himself from Individual Mandate

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been a long-time supporter of an individual mandate requiring everyone to buy private health insurance. It was a key part of the Healthy Americans Act that Wyden co-sponsored with Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT). In fact, the individual mandate in the Healthy Americans Act was much stronger and more expansive than the one in the new health care law. Despite his being a long-time promoter of the individual mandate, Sam Stein at the Huffington Post has noticed that Wyden seems to be putting some distance between himself and the highly unpopular provision.

Stein highlights this passage in Wyden’s letter to Oregon’s Health Authority office about his efforts to try to move up the start date for state innovation waivers from 2017 to 2014:

In addition, Senate Finance Committee Counsel has stated that a state that can meet the general coverage requirements of the PPACA can obtain a Federal waiver under Section 1332 without a requirement that individuals purchase health insurance. Because you and I believe that the heart of real health reform is affordability and not mandates, I wanted to bring this feature of Section 1332 to the attention of you and the legislature.

Changing from a long-time backer of an individual mandate to actually suggesting that Oregon’s state legislature look at ways to prevent the individual mandate from ever going into effect seems like a noticeable policy shift.

Wyden’s modest attempt to back away from the individual mandate probably is good politics. It also shows his willingness to listen to the will of the voters. The concept of the government forcing you to buy a product from unpopular private insurance companies is almost universally opposed by voters. The recent Kaiser tracking poll found that 80 percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of the policy and a solid majority view it very unfavorably. Given that it is entirely possible to provide universal health insurance using health care systems that don’t include an individual mandate forcing individuals to buy from private insurers, it seems foolish to defend the concept. Even from a policy perspective, the bulk of the evidence from around the world doesn’t indicate that an individual mandate-based health care system performs better than alternatives like single payer.

We can only hope that Wyden’s recent shift away from the individual mandate is a sign that the Democratic Party is beginning to acknowledge what a massive political and policy mistake they made. Americans are unhappy that the new health care law contains a provision using the IRS to force individuals to buy insurance from the unpopular private health insurance industry without alternatives like a public option.

If only there had been a group of progressives, armed with polling data and workable alternative proposals, who could have warned Congressional Democrats how politically toxic the individual mandate would be especially without a public option. Oh wait…