Alexander Makes First Move to Repeal Individual Mandate

Lamar Alexander has filed a bill to repeal the portions of President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation that require all Americans purchase health insurance or pay a fine.

Tennessee’s senior U.S. senator, who chairs the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, joined Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and 20 other Republican senators in filing the “American Liberty Restoration Act” on Wednesday.

In a press release, Alexander questioned how the federal government can “continue to enforce the individual mandate” when “the law doesn’t clearly ensure that millions of Americans are allowed to receive subsidies to help cover the cost.” He added that the ACA “outlaws plans that fit family budgets.”

“Millions more Americans are in for sticker shock when they see how much they owe the IRS in April because of Obamacare. We need to focus on making health care plans affordable to Americans,” Alexander said in the release.

For 2014, the first tax year affected by the individual mandate, individuals without health insurance will have to pay a penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their income — whichever is more. In 2015, the fine will go up to $325 or 2 percent of their income.

In his State of the Union speech this week, Obama appeared to double-down on statements made in the wake of the Republican takeover of the Senate in November when he vowed to veto any attempt to undo key pillars of the Affordable Care Act.

“We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto,” Obama said Tuesday night.

Back in November, the president told reporters he would “draw some lines” when it came to future legislation dealing with Obamacare passed by the GOP-controlled Congress. He said he would not sign a repeal of the law or support any other “efforts that would take away health care from the 10 million people who now have it and the millions more who are eligible to get it.”

“In some cases there may be recommendations that Republicans have for changes that would undermine the structure of the law, and I’ll be very honest with them about that and say, look, the law doesn’t work if you pull out that piece or that piece,” he said.

One of the areas of the law Obama vowed to stand firm on was the mandate that all Americans purchase health insurance. While the president said he understood that even with provided federal subsidies some Americans may still not be able to afford their insurance, the mandate is “a central component of the law.”

“The individual mandate is a line I can’t cross because the concept, borrowed from Massachusetts, from a law instituted by a former opponent of mine, Mitt Romney, understood that if you’re providing health insurance to people through the private marketplace, then you’ve got to make sure that people can’t game the system and just wait until they get sick before they go try to buy health insurance,” Obama said in November.

The concept of the individual mandate was first discussed in the late 1980s by conservative economists and pushed by Republican-leaning groups — including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. It was supported by GOP congressmen in the early 1990s as “a less dangerous future than what Hillary [Clinton] was trying to do [with ‘Hillarycare’],” said former U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich in December 2011.

The mandate was in part conceived of in response to the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which required any hospital accepting Medicare funding to provide emergency care for anyone in need, regardless of ability to pay. Thus were created concerns of a “free-rider” problem in which medical-industry experts and economists worried people would intentionally go without insurance, knowing that a hospital had to provide them free care.

But just as conservatives haven’t always opposed the individual-mandate concept, liberals haven’t always been on board with it.

As recently as 2008, Obama criticized Hillary Clinton over her support of the mandate. “If things were that easy, I could mandate everybody to buy a house, and that would solve the problem of homelessness. It doesn’t,” he said at the time.

In 2011, Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill passed by the Tennessee Legislature in response to the ACA which declared Tennesseans should “be free to choose or to decline to choose any mode of securing health care services without penalty or threat of penalty.”

The General Assembly will convene an “extraordinary session” of the legislature on Feb. 2, to discuss Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” proposal to expand health insurance coverage for low-income Tennesseans.  Next Tuesday, Jan. 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on “the legal issues raised by the governor’s proposed Obamacare Medicaid expansion plan.”

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also filed legislation earlier this month to prevent the IRS from assessing any fines on Tennesseans who haven’t signed up for health insurance. The bill would also prevent the state from operating any healthcare exchange.