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The president is wrong about the mandate

February 26, 2010 - Mike Maneval

“When I ran in the Democratic primaries, I was opposed to the mandate,” The Washington Post reports President Obama said, characterizing his description of his change of heart as being “dragged kicking and screaming” to his new position on mandating consumers purchase health care. The Post's E.J. Dionne describes the argument he then outlined for the mandate as a "good one."

It isn't. The President may have been more respectful of Americans in how he frames tired claims about the mandate at Thursday's health care summit - "The reason I came to this conclusion is twofold. ... Everybody here who has health insurance is one way or another paying for those who don't. Every time somebody goes into the emergency room (without insurance) ... we'd all pick up the tab. And the calculation -- not our calculation, but independent economists -- is that each family with health insurance right now is picking up $1,000 to $1,100 worth of costs for people who don't have health insurance," he said, according to Huffington Post's transcripts - but the argument remains vested in an ugly assumption.

The assumption is that large numbers of consumers will decline to purchase health care, waiting until illness or affliction is upon them, or in the words of Karen Ignagni of America's Health Insurance Plans to BusinessWeek, "wait until they are too sick to purchase coverage." The Health Blog at Consumer Reports' Web site calls the possible practice "gaming the system," as does the chief executive of Truman Medical Center, according to the Kansas City Star.

The argument, at its essence, is that the American consumer is manipulative, selfish and conniving. If a policy proposal was based on such baseless assertions about investors, merchants, or financiers, such an approach would quickly be labelled "class warfare." And yet, when the metaphorical firefight is directed at an interest with which most Americans are aligned, consumers, such labelling is much rarer.


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