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New Health Care Law, Individual Mandate: The conservative way to reform health care.

My fellow progressives: the next time you are in an argument with someone over the new health care reform law and your opponent starts pontificating about a “government takeover” complete with the scary and supposedly unconstitutional “individual mandate,” remind them of this. Our health reform law is a deeply conservative, uniquely American way of delivering health care for everyone. In fact, when none other than the well-known uber-conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation laid out the elements of their preferred national health reform plan way back in 1990, author Stuart Butler basically described this year’s health reform law that finally passed Congress:

The second central element in the Heritage proposal is a two-way commitment between government and citizen. Under this social contract, the federal government would agree to make it financially possible, through refundable tax benefits or in some cases by providing access to public-sector health programs, for every American family to purchase at least a basic package of medical care, including catastrophic insurance. In return, government would require by law every head of household to acquire at least a basic health plan for his or her family. Thus there would be mandated coverage under the Heritage proposal, but the mandate would apply to the family head, who is the appropriate person to shoulder the primary responsibility for the family’s health needs, rather than employers, who are not.

— Stuart M. Butler, “Using Tax Credits to Create an Affordable Health System [1]“; The Heritage Foundation; July 20, 1990.

Let’s see how Heritage’s proposal stacks up against what actually passed in the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act. Refundable tax credits to help individuals purchase insurance? Check. Expansion of some public-sector health programs for people who are really poor? Check. Basic package of health insurance defined, while individuals free to buy more comprehensive coverage? Check. Individuals and families required to have coverage before they get sick – i.e. an individual mandate? Check. Employers not required to provide employee coverage? Check. Looks to me like conservatives and the Heritage Foundation got all they wanted in this year’s health bill. At the very least, how can a plan that looks very much like many conservatives have been asking for over so many years be described by GOPers in such apocalyptic terms?

It’s sort of strategy makes sense if your only purpose in life is to deny the other party the ability to govern the country until you can try and win the next election. However, for those interested in the compromises necessary for effectively governing a democracy, these sorts of scorched-earth arguments are simply an indicator of how radical modern conservatism has become.