Daschle: US politics must afford mandate debate

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Even a year after President Obama signed it into law, support – or lack thereof – for the Affordable Care Act, or “health care reform,” continues to fuel political debate in the US.

And, as former US Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle noted last week during the SAS Health Care and Life Sciences Executive Conference, it’s a debate that will continue for generations.

“Reform” itself is not the point in question. In fact, that’s where Republicans and Democrats find common ground. Rather, the debate centers on the federal government’s role in making health care affordable.

The current plan calls for “individual mandates,” which means everybody in the country must purchase adequate health insurance coverage if they don’t already have it.

According to Daschle, 51 million Americans are uninsured, and 50 percent of those who do have health insurance do not have enough. Those who refuse to comply with individual mandates will pay penalties; those who cannot afford to comply will receive federal subsidies.

Conservatives – especially those who led the 2008 Tea Party movement that shifted power in the US House of Representatives to the far right – do not like individual mandates. The federal government, they say, has no business requiring its citizens to buy anything.

Still, it’s hard to find a would-be 2012 Republican challenger for President Obama who has never supported individual mandates.

“We already have a mandate: to pay for those who cannot pay or who are not willing to pay,” Daschle said at last week’s conference. “The rest of us already pay it through higher premiums.”

Daschle predicts a case currently before the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals will make its way to the US Supreme Court for ruling next year. Though he believes the justices will uphold individual mandates, he does not see an end to the debate – one that will surely continue at least through the 2016 presidential election. And likely for generations to come.

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