Over the course of the White House summit on health care reform, Republican members of Congress repeatedly reminded Americans of their opposition to the controversial individual mandate or requirement to purchase insurance. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said, “The high cost of this bill comes from a non-constitutional mandate.” Minority Leader John Boehner also attempted to bring up the constitutionality of the mandate in a discussion on the deficit.
In August, Grassley laid out a strong defense of the policy by saying, “through an individual mandate and that’s individual responsibility and even Republicans believe in individual responsibility.” A long time supporter of the policy, again in June he said, “there isn’t anything wrong with it [an individual mandate], except some people look at it as an infringement upon individual freedom.”
Republican support for the individual mandate policy goes back further than this health care reform discussion. Earlier this month, Julie Rovner profiled a history of the policy dating back to the 1980’s
In fact, says Len Nichols of the New America Foundation, the individual mandate was originally a Republican idea. “It was invented by Mark Pauly to give to George Bush Sr. back in the day, as a competition to the employer mandate focus of the Democrats at the time.”…
“We called this responsible national health insurance,” says Pauly. “There was a kind of an ethical and moral support for the notion that people shouldn’t be allowed to free-ride on the charity of fellow citizens.”
The policy was originally included in many Republican proposals including the proposals during the Clinton administration. The leading GOP alternative plan known as the 1994 Consumer Choice Health Security Act included the requirement to purchase insurance. Further, this proposal was based off of a 1990 Heritage Foundation proposal outlined a quality health system where “government would require, by law every head of household to acquire at least a basic health plan for his or her family.”
More recently, the Heritage Foundation continued to support the proposal under the Massachusetts health care reform effort passed into law while Mitt Romney was governor. While the proposal did change over the course of the reform process in the state, and Romney and Heritage tried to walk back their support, as Romney admitted this weekend it is, “the ultimate conservative plan.”
The questions raised by tenther individual mandate opponents have largely been debunked by constitutional law experts. Grassley and other Republican are appealing to conservative voters with their recent opposition rather than the constitutional questions. If there had been problems with the legality of the requirement, the argument would have been raised at one point in the last thirty years.
By Emma Sandoe