A Transpartisan Uprising Against the Individual Insurance Mandate

09/01/2010 12:45 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • David Sirota Newspaper columnist, radio host (AM760), bestselling author

Could there be a transpartisan, left-right-center coalition forming against the unpopular individual health insurance mandate in the recently passed health care bill? Perhaps, if you consider three separate stories from across the country.

On the left, Oregon's Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden is making news today with this initiative:

Wyden Pushing For Oregon Waiver From Health Care Law, Individual Mandate

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), is accelerating the process of exempting his state from some of the national reforms passed under President Barack Obama. The Oregon Democrat is seeking to take advantage of a provision he helped write into the legislation that allows states to set up their own health care systems as long as they meet minimal requirements established by the Department of Health and Human Services. In a letter to the state's Health Authority office, Wyden announced that he will introduce legislation to accelerate the start date for state waivers from 2017 to 2014, if not earlier for Oregon specifically.

In addition, he strongly suggested that the state should use the provision to exempt Oregon from the individual mandate, which would penalize those individuals who refuse to purchase insurance coverage.

On the right, we get this from conservative activists here in Colorado:

Voters will get a chance in November to decide whether state authorities should be allowed to require Coloradans to buy health insurance. Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher announced Thursday that an initiative backed by the free-market think tank Independence Institute received enough signatures to make the November ballot. Amendment 63 is an attempt to blunt federal health care reforms requiring Americans to purchase health insurance/

And, of course, in the ultimate swing-state center, we recently got this from Missouri:

Missouri voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a federal mandate to purchase health insurance, rebuking President Barack Obama's administration...With most of the vote counted, Proposition C was winning by a ratio of nearly 3 to 1...Missouri was the first of four states to seek to opt out of the insurance purchase mandate portion of the health care law that had been pushed by Obama.

In the months leading up to the passage of the health care bill, progressives opposed a public-option-free individual mandate, just as Barack Obama originally did as a presidential candidate. And progressives made the case against that individual mandate by correctly pointing out that it is an unacceptable and politically toxic giveaway to insurance industry profiteers. And in those months, many of those progressive voices were derided by hard-core Democratic partisans who insisted the mandate giveaway to insurance companies would be both good policy and good politics. The theory was pure Rahm Emanuelism - ie. just pass anything and it will be successful and politically popular.

The truth is exactly the opposite. Forcing Americans to buy products from profiteering insurance companies without giving Americans a choice of a public option is terrible policy. It is a blank check guarantee of customers and revenues to private insurance companies, without the threat of price competition.* It's also an unprecedented and grotesque use of government power to force citizens - as a consequence of simply being alive - to buy a product from a private corporation (note: that's quite different than requiring car insurance, because a citizen still has a choice of whether or not to actually buy a car - car insurance is not required of citizens as a consequence of their basic existence).

For this reason, it's also terrible politics. You can see that in the transpartisan uprising against the mandate, and new nationwide polling that shows just how politically toxic the health care bill is.

Maybe next time, the Democratic partisans will actually listen to the progressive movement - rather than crapping on it.

* NOTE: Being specifically against a public-option-free individual insurance mandate is not the same thing as being against other (more progressive) provisions on the health care bill. For example, I support many of the provisions in the bill that fund an expansion of health care coverage for more Americans. But I also oppose a public-option-free individual insurance mandate. Conservatives, of course, are against almost every part of the health care bill. But as Wyden shows, you aren't automatically a conservative - and, in fact, can be a progressive - by opposing specifically the public-option-free insurance mandate.