Last night on Greater Boston with Emily Rooney, I watched Emily Rooney interview a man suing Massachusetts over the individual mandate in Mitt Romney's health care reform law. Romney's law is the inspiration for Obama's similar law, so this lawsuit will have national ramifications. Several state attorneys general have already filed lawsuits against the individual mandate; two of those challenges failed when they met a federal judge, but one succeeded. So far, all the federal judge rulings have fallen along party lines so it really is going to boil down to what Anthony Kennedy thinks when everything goes to the United States Supreme Court.
One of things I really regret is that the Democrats did not try to defuse the backlash that the individual mandate presented in the general public. Although most of the provisions of PPACA consistently polled well, the individual mandate has never garnered majority support. I understand why the mandate is necessary; I also understand that the idea of a mandate had its origins with GOP alternatives to the Clintonian proposals for health care reform, but most Americans don't and probably never will. Also, I'm somewhat inclined to agree that the individual mandate violates the spirit of liberalism on which our nation was founded. Although this provision will do a lot to promote the general welfare, it won't do much for securing the blessings of liberty.
It is for these reasons, that I think the new Congress should set about reforming how the individual mandate is implemented, in order to give citizens like Michael Merlina the choice to forge his or her own destiny. I like Paul Starr's approach. Give people who want to risk it the option of opting out, but prevent them from collecting on any of the benefits of PPACA for an extended period of time. Starr says five years, but I'm sure Congress would have to do quite a bit of research to find the optimal period of time to prevent an opt-outer from reentering.
There are also other ideas of similar ways to reintroduce more choice into the system to make the individual mandate less punitive and more voluntary. I like some of them to varying degrees.
Instead of foolishly working on repealing PPACA, I implore Speaker Boehner and other Republicans to instead work with Obama and the Democrats to make surgical cuts in the original law to make it better. Replacing the mandate with some sort of opt-in/opt-out scheme would be a very good place to start.