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Pawlenty Was For Exchanges Before He Was Against Them

Tim Pawlenty has long criticized the individual mandate provision in the Affordable Care Act, a policy that’s designed to encourage healthier people to purchase coverage and one that he previously considered. Now, in an interview with Politico, Pawlenty is sharpening his attack against reform and speaking out against the exchanges — a central provision of President Obama’s health care law:

Pawlenty also expanded his attack to another key provision of the Affordable Care Act: the health insurance exchanges, new marketplaces meant to increase access to insurance and drive down costs. He called health exchanges “utterly worthless,” noting that he’d rejected such a proposal during his tenure as Minnesota governor.

Pawlenty faced serious criticism after last week’s Republican debate, when he appeared uncomfortable when given a chance to stand by the term he’d coined the day before — “Obamneycare” — to highlight the similarities between the federal health law and the Massachusetts reform Romney signed four years earlier.

But this argument is specious for two reasons. First, the structure of the exchanges are determined by the individual states, and it’s up to them to build a system that would allow customers to compare a reasonable number of comprehensive insurance choices. The exchanges have already succeeded in Massachusetts, where the coverage rate is approaching 100 percent and public support for the law is only increasingly. States like California are now building on the Massachusetts exchange model.

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Secondly, Pawlenty actually advanced exchanges in Minnesota in 2007, arguing that the non-profit Minnesota Insurance Exchange could “connect employers and workers with more affordable health coverage options.” “If just two of your employees go out and buy insurance through the exchange, the benefits to the employer on a pre-tax basis — because of their payments to Social Security and otherwise into the 125 plan — more than cover the cost of setting up the plan,” Pawlenty explained at the time. The proposal was part of the governor’s “Healthy Connections” health care plan and he described the Exchange as a structure that “will create another option for employers who would like to provide health insurance as a benefit for their employees.” “All individual health insurance policies in Minnesota will be required to be purchased through the Exchange. Individuals will also be able to pay for coverage with pre-tax dollars. The products will continue to be regulated by the state,” a press release for the proposal read.