Individual Mandate: Republicans Were for It Before They Were Against It. In Fact, It Was Their Idea

Wendell Potter – Author, Analyst, Center for Public Integrity;  Former insurance company exe; Posted: 10/20/11 12:35 PM ET

In the Republican presidential debate Tuesday night, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich acknowledged, apparently in an unguarded moment, that a core element of “ObamaCare,” the requirement that all Americans be enrolled in either a private or public health insurance plan, was a proposal originated by the Heritage Foundation, a powerful conservative think tank.

Gingrich made the admission as he was denying former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s accusation that the former Republican leader was once a supporter of the mandate.

I’m sure the other presidential hopefuls on the stage in Las Vegas were holding their breath, praying they would not be asked why they all are now so staunchly opposed to the very notion of such a mandate, which several GOP attorneys general are even alleging in various lawsuits violates the U.S. Constitution. As a result of those lawsuits, the Supreme Court is likely to rule next year on the constitutionality of the mandate and the entire reform law.

The candidates’ prayers were answered. Not one of them was asked why an idea conceived more than two decades ago by several conservative economists and favored by Republican lawmakers is a horrible idea now.

If they had been asked and had been honest in their responses, they undoubtedly would have said it is because Barack Obama is not a Republican and also because the mandate, according to almost every poll, is the least popular part of the Affordable Care Act.

The Heritage Foundation was not alone in advocating for an individual mandate, which was the cornerstone of its “Responsible National Health Insurance” plan back in 1991. It was also endorsed by one of the other preeminent conservative and pro-business think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute, which for many years received funding from one of the companies I worked for, CIGNA Corporation. (CIGNA endowed a chair at AEI to honor Wilson Taylor when he retired as chairman and CEO of the company.) You can rest assured that AEI would never have supported an individual mandate if insurance companies hated the idea.