The most intriguing question looming about tomorrow night’s State of the Union address is how President Obama will handle his massively unpopular health care reform. I predict that he will indicate a willingness to modify this model of perfectibility…but not in any meaningful way.
Merrill Matthews of the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas puts forth an idea for what he thinks the president should do (though not necessarily tomorrow night) in today’s Wall Street Journal: drop the so-called individual mandate, which is by and large loathed by voters:
As Republicans look for ways to repeal or replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Obama would be wise to cut his losses now and signal he would support eliminating its individual mandate, which requires people to have health insurance or pay a fine….
For all the prattle about how Democrats are confident the mandate will survive a constitutional challenge from more than half the states, they know a Supreme Court decision is a crapshoot, given the four-right four-left split and the unpredictability of Justice Anthony Kennedy. If the justices decide the mandate is unconstitutional, there is no telling how much of the rest of the legislation they might also kick out due to the bill’s lack of a severability clause.
In addition to the lawsuits, six states have passed legislation and two have passed a state constitutional amendment asserting that the federal government cannot tell their citizens they have to have health insurance or pay a fine….
Matthews notes that Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts are sponsoring a bill that would allow states to opt out of the mandate at an earlier date. The option to opt out was supposed to come in 2017, but Wyden and Brown move it to 2014, when the mandate goes into effect.
It is important to understand that the mandate is merely a clumsy way to fix a bigger problem in ObamaCare: the requirement that insurers accept anyone who applies regardless of medical condition….
Congress could mitigate that moral hazard by restricting individuals buying their own coverage-employer-based plans already accept all new employees-with a pre-existing medical condition to obtain or change coverage only during a six-week, annual “open season” enrollment period. Or they could pay an increased premium the longer they wait to get coverage, or both. Those options would not eliminate gaming, but they might reduce it….
Getting rid of the mandate won’t fix all of ObamaCare’s problem. But it would be a good first step, while demonstrating that the president is finally willing to work with Republicans on health-care reform. And it would save the president from facing the indignity of the Supreme Court kicking out part-or all-of his signature legislation
I have a better idea: Scrap this massive piece of legislation and go back to the drawing board with incremental reform. And I don’t think Obama will be willing to drop the cornerstone of the reform.