Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's stances on health insurance mandates stand as one of the great ironies of the 2012 presidential race. At various points both have opposed the mandate and both have advocated for the idea, successfully forcing the measure into legislation. The only problem is that they have evolved in opposite directions.
The Obama campaign made the strategic decision to carve out a niche as the anti-mandate candidate during the 2008 Democratic primary. "It forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it, and you pay a penalty if you don't," said one ominous ad from the 2008 campaign that Obama used to attack Hillary Clinton. That staunch opposition of course changed once Obama assumed office and faced the realities of crafting legislation. His team realized any measure that prevented insurance companies from discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions would collapse without a mandate, as healthy individuals would flee the market, leaving only the sickest purchasing insurance and ratcheting up the cost of coverage. In the end, Obama ditched his primary stance and the fate of his landmark bill now hangs on whether the Supreme Court interprets the mandate as constitutional.
Romney went through his own change of heart at roughly the same time. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney passed a health care overhaul that was used as a model by the Obama team. That Massachusetts bill included it's own mandate, and as Ryan Lizza reported in The New Yorker last year, Romney pushed the policy during meetings with his advisors. Old e-mails newly released by The Wall Street Journal Tuesday gives further credence to the idea that it was Romney himself who believed in the necessity of the mandate. The e-mails indicate Romney and his team fought for the inclusion of a mandate even when Massachusetts Democrats appeared disinterested. Romney himself wrote an op-ed in favor of his bill, and, per the e-mails, the original draft included a throat-clearing defense of the individual mandate. "Either the individual pays or the taxpayers pay. A free ride on government is not libertarian," Romney himself wrote. " "An uninsured libertarian might counter that he could refuse the free care, but under law, that is impossible—and inhumane."
That's similar to the language Obama now uses to explain his support for the mandate. Yet Romney has flipped sides. He hasn't fully backtracked, still terming his Massachusetts plan as the right action for his state, but claiming that anything of a similar nature would be a disastrous assault on freedom at the national level.
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