The Corner

Health Care

Joe Biden Wants to Resurrect the Individual Mandate

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the second night of the first Democratic presidential candidates debate in Miami, Fla., June 27, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
Joe Biden Wants to Resurrect the Individual Mandate

Reports CNBC:

Joe Biden, former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, said Friday he would bring back the individual mandate, the penalty for not having health insurance, which was a pillar of the Affordable Care Act.

“Yes, I’d bring back the individual mandate,” Biden said in an interview on CNN. The individual mandate would be popular now, “compared to what’s being offered,” he added.

This is a bizarre thing to be saying in 2019.

In designing Obamacare, the law’s authors had what was sometimes called a three-legged stool in mind. One, prohibit insurance companies from charging higher prices to people with preexisting conditions. Two, because this will tempt people to wait until after they get sick to buy insurance — a behavior that drives up premiums and can lead to the dreaded death spiral, where each premium hike causes more healthy people to leave the market, leading to another premium hike — simply require everyone to get covered. And three, to make sure everyone can buy insurance, offer subsidies to those who can’t afford it.

The importance of the mandate is clear if this is how you see the law. It’s the thing that stops the preexisting-condition protections from setting off a death spiral.

But that’s not how Obamacare worked out in practice. The folks who join the exchanges tend to receive generous subsidies — which rise when premiums do — so they’ll sign up before they get sick even if they aren’t forced to. (For those who don’t get subsidies, the mandate was never all that effective to begin with, and inflicted considerable harm on those forced to buy overpriced plans with features they didn’t want or need.) Put differently, the carrots (subsidies) were far more important than the stick (mandate).

As I explained in a piece early this year, this isn’t to say there are no tradeoffs here. Killing the mandate does increase premiums, maybe 6 to 10 percent. It also means some people will choose to go without insurance, or to buy skimpy plans that don’t comply with Obamacare (an option Trump has expanded). But these are far milder consequences than Obamacare’s architects envisioned, and thus a far weaker argument for forcing people to buy a product against their will.

There’s also, of course, the politics here. PolitiFact has noted that the mandate was the least popular of the Affordable Care Act’s changes, though the degree of opposition depends on which poll question was asked and when.

As Kyle Smith put it last week, Joe Biden’s main job in this race is to look moderate and reasonable. Resurrecting a policy that was unpopular and surprisingly ineffective is an odd choice for such a candidate.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

The March for Life Is a March for Truth

Pro-lifers are marching today, as they do every year, to commemorate a great evil that was done in January 1973 and to express solidarity with its innocent victims. The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade eliminated legal protections for unborn children in all 50 states, and did so without any ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The March for Life Is a March for Truth

Pro-lifers are marching today, as they do every year, to commemorate a great evil that was done in January 1973 and to express solidarity with its innocent victims. The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade eliminated legal protections for unborn children in all 50 states, and did so without any ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Clarence Thomas Speaks

Those who know Justice Clarence Thomas say that any perception of him as dour or phlegmatic couldn't be more off-base. He's a charming, gracious, jovial man, full of bonhomie and easy with a laugh, or so I'm told by people who know him well. On summer breaks he likes to roam around the country in an RV and stay ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Clarence Thomas Speaks

Those who know Justice Clarence Thomas say that any perception of him as dour or phlegmatic couldn't be more off-base. He's a charming, gracious, jovial man, full of bonhomie and easy with a laugh, or so I'm told by people who know him well. On summer breaks he likes to roam around the country in an RV and stay ... Read More
U.S.

Nadler’s Folly

Jerry Nadler must have missed the day in law school where they teach you about persuasion. The House Democrat made a critical error early in the trial of President Trump. He didn’t just say that Republican senators, who voted to begin the proceedings without calling witnesses, were part of a cover-up. He said ... Read More
U.S.

Nadler’s Folly

Jerry Nadler must have missed the day in law school where they teach you about persuasion. The House Democrat made a critical error early in the trial of President Trump. He didn’t just say that Republican senators, who voted to begin the proceedings without calling witnesses, were part of a cover-up. He said ... Read More
White House

On the Bidens, Schiff Opened the Door

You opened the door. Trial lawyers live in fear of that phrase. When a trial starts, both sides know what the allegations are. Both have had enough discovery to know what the adversary will try to prove. Just as significantly, both know what their own vulnerabilities are. A litigator spends his pretrial ... Read More
White House

On the Bidens, Schiff Opened the Door

You opened the door. Trial lawyers live in fear of that phrase. When a trial starts, both sides know what the allegations are. Both have had enough discovery to know what the adversary will try to prove. Just as significantly, both know what their own vulnerabilities are. A litigator spends his pretrial ... Read More
Science & Tech

The Latest Pandemic Threat

I’m worried about the new coronavirus that has broken out in China and spread, albeit as of now in isolated cases, to other countries. Fortunately, the CDC has assessed that the risk of a major outbreak in the United States is low. I hope the risk is indeed low, because the stakes are very high, particularly ... Read More
Science & Tech

The Latest Pandemic Threat

I’m worried about the new coronavirus that has broken out in China and spread, albeit as of now in isolated cases, to other countries. Fortunately, the CDC has assessed that the risk of a major outbreak in the United States is low. I hope the risk is indeed low, because the stakes are very high, particularly ... Read More