Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Do Americans support an individual mandate?

by Don McCanne, MD - PNHP’s official Blog

But what is shared responsibility? The responsibility of the individual is to pay his/her portion of the premium plus all out-of-pocket expenses, including cost sharing and costs of products and services not covered by the insurance plan. The responsibility of the employer is to pay a portion of the employee’s insurance premium, but economists agree that it is really the individual’s forgone wage increases that pays the premium. The government’s responsibility is to pay for part or all of the care provided to individuals who do not have the funds to pay for care, but it is really ultimately individuals who are paying the taxes that fund the government programs. And the responsibility of the private insurance industry? They don’t pay into the system; they take a large amount of funds out of the system - funds that again are ultimately paid by individuals.

So "shared responsibility" is not a sharing of responsibility; all of the responsibility falls on individuals. "Shared responsibility" is merely a rhetorical framing that advances the interests of some of the stakeholders, especially the private insurance industry.

Even if the respondents to the survey accepted the concept of shared responsibility, it would be a real stretch to conclude that a 48 percent support of a stand-alone mandate means that the public is opposed, whereas a 59 percent support of a mandate with shared responsibility is a solid public endorsement (11 percent difference). This is not a ringing endorsement of a concept that is more of a marketing slogan than a genuine policy proposal.

That said, there is an important take-home message from this survey. Those opposed seemed to understand the policy principles involved. Republicans were opposed because of higher taxes and greater government involvement. Democrats were opposed because a single government health program was needed instead of a mandate to purchase private plans that might not be affordable.

Pretending that the marketing ploy of shared responsibility will bring us bipartisan consensus on reform will only reinforce the process that we are about to see. The Republicans have already gained the greatest concession - single payer is off the table - and they will continue to use the process to gain further concessions that will destroy any semblance of health care equity, and then they will vote against the final bill anyway.

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