The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is advising his state’s health director to apply for a waiver from certain aspects of Obamacare. At the core of Senator Wyden’s argument is the individual mandate:
One little-known provision of the bill allows states to opt out of the “requirement that individuals purchase health insurance,” Mr. Wyden wrote, and “Because you and I believe that the heart of real health reform is affordability and not mandates, I wanted to bring this feature of Section 1332 to the attention of you and the legislature.”
Even though Senator Wyden pushed for an individual mandate in his own health care reform legislation, he understands that states are the real laboratories for innovation in health care delivery and simply mandating insurance does not address the overall problem. Interestingly enough:
…the price for his support included the Section 1332 waivers that he is now promoting. In addition to the individual mandate, states may evade regulations about business taxes, the exact federal standards for minimum benefits, and how subsidies are allocated in the insurance “exchanges”—as long as the state covers the same number of uninsured and keeps coverage as comprehensive.
Even though I have always had concerns about his own reform legislation, Senator Wyden is a rare breed of liberal that understands the positive impact market forces can have on health care. He believes in creating incentives that offer more choices to individuals and that competition among providers is necessary to improving quality and outcomes, both of which have been lacking.
That said, Senator Wyden’s sudden change of heart on Obamacare could be simply a natural reaction to public opinion. In early August, 71 percent of Missouri voters voiced their opposition to the individual mandate by supporting Proposition C which states that no rule or law can compel an individual or business to participate in any health care system, and prohibits laws that level penalties against people who do not buy health insurance. Certainly, it can’t be long until more states put the same measure on their ballots and Senator Wyden could be trying to insulate himself from the inevitable public backlash.
Personally, I am willing to give Senator Wyden the benefit of the doubt. He has been developing health care reform legislation for years and he appreciates the complexity of such an undertaking. Furthermore, he has always worked to bridge the partisan health care divide between Democrats and Republicans even when he didn’t have to.
My hat’s off to you, sir.