Yesterday, Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected the federal requirement to purchase health insurance, becoming the first state in the nation to nullify a portion of the new health care law. Conservatives attached the ballot measure, known as Proposition C, to the state’s primary election and it passed easily, attracting more than 70% of the vote.
But the story Republicans will be telling this morning, namely that the voters have rejected the central tenet of Obamacare and that support for the law is on the decline, doesn’t accurately capture the reality of the situation. A majority of the voters in Missouri voted for Prop C, but most of these supporters were Republican or conservative voters who were coming out to cast their ballot in the state’s competitive GOP primaries. The results say more about the reactionary state of Republican politics and the erosion of GOP policies than about general anti-reform trends or the merits of the mandate.
After all, the notion of requiring everyone to purchase health care insurance as a means of pushing younger and healthier individuals into the system and lowering premiums for everyone, was originally a Republican proposal developed as an alternative to the Clinton health care plan. In 1993, Sen. John Chafee (R-RI), then head of the Senate Republican Task Force, had signed up half of the Republican Senators, including then-Republican Senate leader Bob Dole “for a phased in universal coverage plan that would require every individual to buy a policy.” The plan resembled the current health care law in other ways, offering subsidized coverage for poorer beneficiaries, requiring that insurers offer a standard benefits package and preventing issuers from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions.
Prominent GOP senators like Chuck Grassley (IA) and Judd Gregg (NH) continued to believe that individuals should take responsibility for their own health care costs throughout the years, co-sponsoring the bipartisan Wyden-Bennett health care plan, including the initiative in their own proposals, or publicly endorsing the measure on Fox News. But the politics changed during this reform debate, pushing GOP lawmakers to abandon their previously held positions in favor of repeal policies that would remove the incentive for healthier Americans to buy insurance and consequently increase premiums across the board.
Thus far, the success of this strategy has been limited to Missouri. Arizona — which has put an anti-mandate initiative on the ballot in November — may soon pass a nullification measure, but these states are the exception rather than the rule. In fact, nullification bills have been rejected or failed to pass in at least 26 states where conservatives “claimed legislators would defy federal law.”