In 1993, Republicans Proposed A Mandate First
GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
Before the break, we mentioned the individual mandate in health care. Now, not so long ago, most Democrats hated the idea, and most of its support came from Republicans. And it started with President Bill Clinton's attempt to reform the health care system back in 1993. He came to Capitol Hill to address Congress.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: This health care system of ours is badly broken, and it is time to fix it.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
RAZ: Sitting on the chamber that night a newly elected Republican senator from Utah, Bob Bennett.
BOB BENNETT: I listened to his statement and said to myself, I could make that speech. I agree with everything he just said. But I also realized at the end of the speech that it was all diagnosis and no prescription.
RAZ: So, a few months later, Bennett and about 20 other Republicans set out to offer up an alternative plan to what they disparagingly called Hillarycare, after then-first lady Hillary Clinton who wrote the White House plan. And part of the Republican prescription was the individual mandate. It was even supported by the Republican leader Bob Dole and just two Democrats backed it.
BENNETT: The objection to the individual mandate did not arise really until after Obamacare was written.
RAZ: Did a lot of Republicans like it back in '93 when you were part of this group that introduced it in the Senate?
BENNETT: I'm assuming that they did.
RAZ: Of course, the Heritage Foundation and other conservative organizations like this idea. They thought, you know, there shouldn't be freeloaders, right? That everybody should have to pay for their health care because if you have a heart attack and you get rushed to the emergency room, you're not going to be left for dead in America. Someone is going to take care of you. The question is, who's going to pay that bill? That was the argument.
BENNETT: Yeah, that is - what you have described is currently the law. So we now have on the books a law that says someone can get health care and - from his or her (unintelligible) at the emergency room and walking out and say, I have no coverage. I'm not going to pay this. And there's basically nothing you can do about it.
And if people have an economic incentive to overuse emergency room health care, sometimes jamming up with items that are clearly not emergencies, but they go to the emergency room simply because they know they can get free care, there's an economic cost and there's a fairness argument. So that's why I embraced it.
RAZ: Senator Bennett, you opposed the Affordable Care Act. This is something you voted against.
RAZ: That, of course, is the heart of the Affordable Care Act is the individual mandate. So why did you oppose it?
BENNETT: Well, your comment has just demonstrated one of the problems with this whole debate and how it's been distorted. By having the individual mandate emerge as the litmus test, the binary switch that is either on or off about whether or not this is good legislation. I'm not opposed to the individual mandate, but I still think the bill is a terrible piece of legislation.
The accounting simply does not add up. You look at the way Harry Reid, for whom I have admiration, because he was under pressure from the White House to get it passed regardless of what it said. Well, I cared about the details because I looked at the accounting, I looked at the cost, I look at the devastation it would incur on states and the impact it would have on Medicare and all of the other things that were wrong with it. And frankly, I never even thought about individual mandate as I voted against it.
RAZ: That's Bob Bennett, former Republican senator from Utah. He served in the Senate from 1993 until 2011. And he spoke to us from Salt Lake City. Senator Bennett, thank you so much for your time.
BENNETT: My pleasure. It's good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.