- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both share a passion for health care reform. The main difference between the two is what experts call “the mandate.”

Will the government compel everyone to purchase insurance? Mrs. Clinton answers yes. Her plan mandates that every American must have health insurance — through employers, the government or a private plan. Mr. Obama answers no. He only compels that parents insure their children. The Illinois senator believes the costs of insurance are too high, so why force people to buy something they can’t afford?

The two Democratic campaigns clash regularly on the issue. The dispute erupted again quite recently when Mrs. Clinton complained about flyers sent out by the Obama campaign, charging the New York senator’s health plan would impose new and expensive obligations on people without the means to pay for it.

Polling suggests Mr. Obama may be on to something.

Universal health care coverage is one of those public-policy issues where it’s easier to find consensus on the goal than the solution. In the most recent American Survey (800 registered voters, conducted Jan. 10-14), we asked some questions that highlight this point.

First, the goal of universal coverage receives widespread support. Voters support a system that requires everyone to have insurance coverage by a 63 percent to 33 percent margin. There are some significant differences, however, based on party affiliations. The goal is most widely supported by self-identified Democrats, 83 percent to 14 percent. A smaller majority of independents (61 percent to 34 percent) also support universal coverage. On the other hand, a majority of Republicans (54 percent to 42 percent) oppose a system that requires everyone have insurance.

But when discussion turns to enforcing the goal, support drops precipitously — across the board. Overall, by a margin of 76 percent to 19 percent, voters say they oppose financial penalties for those who do not get coverage.

And even more interesting, this level of opposition is fairly consistent among Democrats, Republicans and independents. Mrs. Clinton stepped on this political landmine when she suggested that “garnishing people’s wages” was one option to enforce her universal coverage mandate.

Based on these polling results, it’s no surprise she has downplayed the enforcement part of her plan in the last several weeks. Mr. Obama apparently has his finger a little closer to the pulse of America by calling for the goal of universal coverage without the baggage of an unpopular mandate.

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