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AirTalk Town Hall: Health care reform – the mandate debate

Obama points
Obama points
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After fourteen contentious months, the House finally passed a healthcare overhaul bill. The landmark legislation aims to extend insurance coverage to nearly 32 million uninsured and halt industry practices that discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions. President Obama signed it into law Tuesday – but the battle is far from over.

One of the most controversial aspects of the reform package is the requirement that all Americans be insured, or pay a fine. Proponents argue that a strong mandate, sweetened by subsidies, is the only way insurers can afford to accept all applicants – sick or well. Critics say the mandate is a bailout for private insurance companies, and contend it will do little to control spiraling healthcare costs. Meanwhile, the attorneys general of a dozen states argue it’s unconstitutional and have threatened legal action.

What are the pros and cons of the individual mandate? Should the government force everyone to buy insurance? How will that work? Who will pay? And is this the best strategy to achieve universal health coverage?

[UPDATE: Since this conversation was recorded, the Senate passed a package of fixes to the health reform bill. The reconciliation bill now goes back to the House for a second vote.]


Lucien Wulsin, attorney specializing in health law and health policy; he is the director of the Insure the Uninsured Project (ITUP)

Glen Whitman, Associate Professor of Economics, California State University, Northridge, and adjunct scholar at the CATO Institute

Patrick Johnston, President and CEO, California Association of Health Plans

Jerry Flanagan, Health Care Policy Director, Consumer Watchdog