A Confused Message on Insurance Mandates

August 11, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

On the topic of the government’s role in mandating insurance coverage, there’s an interesting distinction being put forth by some conservatives as they aim to bring down the Democrats’ plans to revamp the nation’s health care system: Namely, they’re arguing that requiring drivers to buy insurance makes sense, but mandating coverage for patients doesn’t.

The issue came to head yesterday on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” where host Chris Matthews and Tim Phillips, who heads Americans for Prosperity, duked it out over whether that distinction makes any sense. Phillips, a self-described free-market conservative, argued that the drivers’ requirement is “a decent mandate,” but he doesn’t feel the same system is appropriate for health insurance.

“When you have health care, that’s a choice that impacts yourself,” Phillips said. “Drivers’ insurance impacts other drivers you may have accidents with.”

When Matthews accurately pointed out that health insurance certainly does impact other patients — because hospital emergency rooms, which are required to treat patients whether they’re insured or not, simply pass along the costs to treat the uninsured to everyone else — Phillips responded by upending his own differentiation between drivers and patients.

“They do put costs on the people who buy insurance,” Phillips said of the hospitals, “but I don’t want to see government reaching in and hitting the pocketbooks and requiring them [patients] on the insurance front.”

Phillips is pushing for the broader creation of private health savings accounts. Considering the recent volatility of the stock market, though, it’s a bit strange that there’s still talk of trusting Wall Street to manage something as vital one’s health savings.

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