Orrin Hatch’s Opportunism On The Individual Mandate

Orrin HatchPOLITICO’s The Pulse reports that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) — who had proudly co-sponsored a 1993 bill that required everyone to purchase health insurance coverage — will introduce two separate measures to repeal “the unconstitutional individual mandate and the job-killing employer mandate, the most egregious elements of this devastating health law.” Republicans tried and failed to pass a similar measure in the House on Tuesday and it’s highly unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will allow Hatch’s bill to come to a vote.

In that respect, the maneuver is pure politics and Hatch — who does have some bipartisan chops when it comes to health care — has had a hard time explaining why he supported a mandate in the past. Here is how he answered that question when pressed by MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell in March:

HATCH: We were fighting Hillarycare at that time. And I don’t think anyone centered on it, I certainly didn’t. That was 17 years ago. But since then, and with the advent of this particular bill, really seeing how much they’re depending on an unconstitutional approach to it, yea, naturally I got into it, got into it on this issue.

When I spoke to Antonia Ferrier from Hatch’s office she reiterated this point, telling me that “in the intervening years he actually went back and looked at that legislation, looked at the constitutionality of that question, talked to a variety of different constitutional scholars and looking at that legislation that he co-sponsored back in 1993, he realized that this part of the bill, that it was unconstitutional.” But surprisingly, he doesn’t regret cosponsoring what he sees as an unconstitutional measure, since it was a means to “defeat HillaryCare.” “In 1993, he was not examining the individual mandate through a constitutional prism,” Ferrier told me.

Today, he is not examining the mandate through a cost-benefit prism. The individual mandate creates incentives for otherwise healthy Americans to purchase insurance and lowers premiums. Were Hatch’s plan adopted, healthy Americans would avoid buying coverage and insurance plans would be dominated by sicker people. Premiums would increase, severely disadvantaging the millions of Americans with chronic conditions (who actually use care). But when I asked Ferrier if the Senator was concerned about increasing costs, she kept saying that Republicans have offered their own proposals and that the Senator would not accept this law and continue to fight for conservative solutions to the health care crisis:

“That might be the concerns of some,” she said in response to my increasing costs argument, “our concern is about the constitutional questions about it.” “You keep going back to premiums,” she told me. “What I’m talking to you about is a very fundamental American concept of liberty here. We believe we can lower premiums in an entirely different way.”

Hatch will certainly continue to press for his own conservative solutions, but the optics of this are rather damaging: in 1993, he supported the mandate to stop HillaryCare, now he’s opposing it to unravel the health care law. Forget “retrospection,” it’s opportunism at its finest.