July 27, 2009 2:15PM

Washington Post Misrepresents Individual Mandates

Here’s a poor, unsuccessful letter to the editor I sent to The Washington Post:

Like Car Insurance, Health Coverage May Be Mandated” [July 22, page A1] paints a misleading picture of proposals to require Americans to purchase health insurance – i.e., an “individual mandate.”

First, the article lacks balance. It cites three politicians who support an individual mandate but none who oppose it, a group that includes a majority of Republicans. The article claims an individual mandate “has its roots in the conservative philosophy of self‐​reliance,” even though most conservatives, including the movement’s flagship magazine National Review, oppose the idea. The closest the article comes to offering an opposing perspective is one conservative who has supported an individual mandate in the past and may yet again, just not yet.

Second, the article makes the demonstrably inaccurate claims that an individual mandate “lowers overall costs” and “help[s] keep premiums down” by adding more young and healthy people to the insurance market. Forcing healthy people to purchase insurance does not affect premiums for sicker purchasers, because insurers set premiums according to each purchaser’s health risk. The article confuses a mandate with price controls, which force low risks to pay more so that high risks can pay less.

Finally, if an individual mandate reduced overall costs, then health care spending would be falling in Massachusetts, which enacted the nation’s only individual mandate in 2006. Instead, overall health spending is rising, and the rate of growth has accelerated under the mandate. Rising health spending implies rising health insurance premiums, which has also been the Massachusetts experience.