Health care law may not need individual mandate, some liberals say

Some supporters of the nation’s health care reform law offered a surprising new argument last week: The death of the law’s individual mandate might actually be a good thing.

The mandate — a requirement that virtually everyone buy health insurance by 2014 — is clearly the most unpopular and legally difficult part of the health care package.


Missourians overwhelmingly rejected it at the polls last summer; Colorado voters followed suit in November.

In January, Kansas lawmakers are expected to consider a measure outlawing the mandate in the state.

Last week, federal Judge Henry Hudson of Virginia declared the mandate unconstitutional, casting doubt on the law’s legality.

“The individual mandate cannot be applied constitutionally in any circumstance,” attorney David Rivkin told a different federal judge last Thursday in yet another lawsuit against health reform, a judge who has indicated deep skepticism about the legality of the mandate.

Conservatives, of course, have bitterly attacked the insurance requirement for a year as an unconstitutional congressional power grab. Now, however, a small chorus of liberals is suggesting the end of the mandate could help, not hurt, the health care law.

That’s because the Virginia judge who threw out the mandate left the rest of the law intact. If his ruling is sustained in higher courts, the more popular parts of the law — including the requirement that health insurance companies cover almost everyone — probably would stay in place.

“The truth is you don’t need the individual mandate to make this work,” former presidential candidate Howard Dean argued after the ruling.

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