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More on Huntsman and His Support for the Individual Mandate

Morgen on June 16, 2011 at 7:32 am

I get the sense that I’m one of maybe 6 people who even care about this issue at this stage, but for whatever reason it continues to garner mainstream media coverage, and since I have more to report I feel compelled to cover it. Sorry.

Politico posted another story yesterday by Sarah Kliff on the question of whether Jon Huntsman supported a health insurance mandate as Governor of Utah. The piece leads off with the Huntsman quote we discovered and posted a couple of weeks ago, that Huntsman was “comfortable” with a mandate, which I think for many people would settle the question. However, the bulk of Kliff’s article is devoted to rebutting this conclusion with quotes from Huntsman insiders such as this:

John T. Nielsen, who was Huntsman’s most senior health policy adviser during the 2007 negotiations that led to Utah’s health care reform bill, says the former governor might have supported an individual mandate if his staff had called for one.

“We talked about the mandate. It was clearly part of the discussions — I can’t deny that,” Nielsen said. “He never did say ‘I want to see a mandate.’ But if we had recommended [the mandate], and thought it was the best way, I suspect maybe he would have gone along with it.”

And this:

When pressed on the issue, a half-dozen sources tell POLITICO they do not recall Huntsman or his administration taking a position on the mandate.

“Honestly, we never had an in-depth discussion on it,” says David Sundwall, another key member of the Huntsman administration who continues to serve as the executive director of the Utah Department of Health. “Of course, it would have been of interest. But you’ve got to have a critical mass. It didn’t waste our time pushing for something that would be.”

There is more, but the overriding conclusion is that no one remembered Huntsman ever directly expressing support for a mandate, that he was mostly hands-off in crafting the reform framework anyway, and that a mandate was ultimately never even considered by the strongly conservative-leaning Utah legislature. Oh, and Kliff’s piece also throws in this:

But opponents will likely have trouble tracking down a “gotcha” moment for an attack ad, as his advisers describe Huntsman as a governor who was thoughtful and deliberate, rarely making his policy preferences known — or, even whether he had a policy preference to begin with.

Well, I beg to differ. While I don’t really want to parse words or drill into semantics over this, if the question is whether Jon Huntsman ever held the belief that a health insurance mandate was good public policy (and what more salient question can there be than this?), I think the answer is unequivocally yes, in spite of Politico’s reporting. And not just based on the quote from Huntsman stating that he was “comfortable” with a mandate. (Although this alone is enough to demonstrate that Huntsman did in fact take a position expressing some support for the mandate.)

No, I actually have another Huntsman statement from the same time period that I’ve been holding off on publishing. This one should really leave no doubt about Huntsman’s prior position on the mandate, and even suggests something about his view on the advisability of the policy on a national level. From an interview Huntsman conducted in the Fall of 2007 for a documentary on healthcare reform in Utah:

Interviewer: A lot of states like Massachusetts and California are doing mandates for coverage. Do you see Utah going anywhere in that direction?

Jon Huntsman: I mentioned yesterday to somebody asking a question that I wouldn’t shy away from mandates.  I think if you’re going to get it done and get it done right, [a] mandate has to be part of it in some way, shape, or form whether it’s the college age population or whether it’s something beyond, it’s got to be a serious attempt, and I’m not sure you get to the point of serious attempt without some sort of mandate associated with what you’re trying to do.  Certainly a market-based approach is part of the solution as well.  We forget that.  If a tax credit is something that the federal government ultimately works out, then you’ve got some market solutions tossed in and nobody likes the word mandate, but without that kind of insistence–that directness, I don’t know that you can achieve something this challenging in a short period of time, which is what I think we need to do as a nation.

Well, it sure seems like he took a clear position on the mandate to me. Note that he did not say anything like: you know, I have a number of advisers working on this and other questions, and I’m going to carefully consider their recommendations and ultimately support what I think is the best approach for the people of Utah. He obviously could have said something like this, but didn’t. Why? Because he clearly had an informed point of view on this subject himself. Which was, in a nutshell, if you’re going to get healthcare reform done, and get it done right, it’s going to have to include a mandate.

The more interesting, and newsworthy, statement I think is Huntsman’s closing comment in reference to the mandate, that this is what he thought we needed to do “as a nation. Because even if he ultimately owns up to having previously supported a mandate for Utah (and I don’t see how he can avoid it at this point), this latter statement may be viewed as placing him even farther out on the mandate ledge than Romney. Romney, remember, has consistently claimed that he felt a mandate was the right solution for Massachusetts, but never presumed or advocated a mandate as the best policy for the nation as a whole.

Huntsman’s statement, on the other hand, was echoed in various forms by a multitude of ObamaCare advocates in 2009, when the mandate was deemed the critically important,”third leg” of the healthcare reform stool. And I think it’s pretty clear that this is not just some strange coincidence either. Huntsman was clearly knowledgeable and opinionated on the various policy options for healthcare reform (see the full interview). And note that on this issue at least, he was to the left even of Barack Obama at the time, who if you recall opposed the mandate during the democratic primary campaign.

I can imagine that differentiating Huntsman’s position from Romney’s on the mandate may be a key part of the Huntsman campaign strategy, but based on this it sure looks like they are going to have to go back to the drawing board.

Also. In the interview I linked above Huntsman also expressed support for the re-importation of lower cost drugs from Canada. This is not exactly a bedrock conservative position either.

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Category: Health & Education, Politics |

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