Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hypocrisy And The Individual Mandate

Since the passing of Obamacare the biggest point of contention raised by Republicans has been the Individual Mandate that requires everyone to have health insurance. This is somewhat puzzling to me, I simply can't understand the rationale behind the vehement opposition to a policy that was created and championed for 20 years by their own party. Yes, the individual mandate is of Republican origin, was a key point of their own health care reform attempts and has been a key point of their reform policy since 1989. I wonder how many conservatives are even aware of this fact.

I vaguely remembered this as part of the failed Clinton era health reform battle but couldn't remember specific details so I spent the better part of a morning researching it. My initial search query yielded this article from The New Yorker, points raised in that article led to continued searching and reading which in turn led to more information.  Here's what I found, in summary.

In 1989 The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, published a brief entitled “Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans.” It was an opposing response to the Democrats favored policies of a single payer system and an employer mandate. On page 5 of this brief the foundation's health care expert stated, "2) Mandate all households to obtain adequate insurance. Many states now require passengers in automobiles to wear seatbelts for their own protection. Many others require anybody driving a car to have liability insurance. But neither the federal government nor any state requires all households to protect themselves from the potentially catastrophic costs of a serious accident or illness. Under the Heritage plan, there would be such a requirement." The brief goes on to include plans for vouchers and other assistance to those Americans unable to afford the cost of insurance. Sound familiar? If you read the entire brief it contains additional recommendations very similar if not downright identical to other Obamacare provisions.

Four years later the individual mandate made its first legislative appearance in the Republicans' alternative to then President Clinton's proposed health care reform bill. The 1993 Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act, or S.1770 was sponsored by Rhode Island's Republican Senator John Chafee. It co-sponsored by 20 additional senators, 18 of which were Republican including then Senate Minority Leader and future Republican Presidential nominee Bob Dole. Part of this bill, Subtitle F--Universal Coverage SEC. 1501. REQUIREMENT OF COVERAGE. (scroll down to find the appropriate section, approx 1/4 of the way down the page) stated, "Effective January 1, 2005, each individual who is a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States shall be covered under a qualified health plan,or an equivalent health care program." Sound familiar? Had Clinton taken the initiative to work more closely with Dole we might have had an individual mandate 18 years ago, courtesy of the Republican party. Clinton himself conceded this fact when interviewed for a history of the health-care wars of the nineties entitled "The System." His statement was that after his employer mandate bill was defeated, "It should have been right then, or the day after they presented their bill, where I should have tried to have a direct understanding with Dole."

Ten years later a Democrat, Senator Ron Wyden, began work on his own health care reform bill based on the individual mandate espoused by the Republican party. He communicated with many of his fellow Senators, stating that “Between 2004 and 2008, I saw over eighty members of the Senate, and there were very few who objected.” In December of 2009 he introduced the Healthy Americans Act. Section 102 of this bill stated "Each adult individual shall have the responsibility to enroll in a HAPI (Healthy Americans Private Insurance) plan, unless the adult individual--" This was followed by a list of reasons for exemptions, most based on the individual already having suitable insurance of some kind. Bob Bennett, a Utah Republican who had been a sponsor of the 1993 Chafee bill, joined him. The bill ended up with eleven Republican co-sponsors and nine Democrat co-sponsors making it the most bipartisan supported universal health-care proposal in the history of the Senate. In June of 2009 Mitt Romney, who by the way had signed into law his own universal health care bill with an individual mandate, said that the Wyden-Bennett bill was one “that a number of Republicans think is a very good health-care plan—one that we support.” He has also stated in regard to his own individual mandate in Massachusetts that the mandate “is essential for bringing the health care costs down for everyone and getting everyone the health insurance they need." This is the same Mitt Romney who three years later would promise to repeal Obamacare, to kill it dead, on his first day in office if elected President.

The Wyden-Bennett bill became part of a trend of Democratic health care reform attempts adopting the Republican position on individual mandates. This is an example of compromise, or co-operation, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept. John Edwards adopted it, as did Hillary Clinton. Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus included the individual mandate in his health care bill. In 2008 Ted Kennedy brought in outside assistance to help with reform. Who did he bring in? John McDonough, a liberal who was in favor of Romney's 2006 Massachusetts health reform law and played a key role in its passage. The individual mandate is still a Republican platform at this point, and the Democrats were more than willing to adopt it in the name of passing much needed reform.

Ironically enough the main holdout among Democrats was Senator Barack Obama, but he later changed his mind. In an interview with CBS then President Obama stated, "I was opposed to this idea because my general attitude was the reason people don’t have health insurance is not because they don’t want it. It’s because they can’t afford it. I am now in favor of some sort of individual mandate."

I think it was at this point that the entire Republican party reversed its two decade old ideology on the issue. As soon as "the enemy" took up their own cause they simply abandoned it, going as far as to declare unconstitutional what had for twenty years been their own plan. In fact, in a 2009 Senate vote every single Republican senator voted in favor of declaring the individual mandate unconstitutional despite the fact that they originated the concept and had supported it for 20 years.

Republicans have now made 40 attempts to repeal Obamacare at a cost of well over fifty million dollars to the taxpayers of our country. It has passed through all three branches of our government; Legislative, Executive and Judicial. It has been deemed Constitutional by the United States Supreme Court, including conservative Chief Justice John Roberts who was appointed by George W Bush. Yet the Republicans continue to waste time, money and effort trying to stamp out the idea they themselves created and supported for 20 years.

I would love to hear a valid, rational explanation or defense of this purely partisan driven hypocrisy but I know I never will because there is no valid, rational explanation. There is only partisanship, blind obedience to the Party regardless of cost to the people.

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