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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan April 21, 2008

Her mandate doesn't mention garnishment

In the final days before the Pennsylvania primary, the two Democratic candidates went after each other on health care.

"Hillary Clinton's attacking, but what's she not telling you about her health care plan?" the narrator in a Barack Obama campaign ad asks. "It forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it, and you pay a penalty if you don't."

Text on the screen shows a news story with the highlighted words, "willing to have workers' wages garnisheed if they refuse to buy health insurance."

Read Clinton's health care plan, and you won't find "garnisheed wages" in any of the fine print.

But her plan does have an individual mandate — every person in the country will be required to have health insurance one way or another. (Obama's plan has a mandate for children only.) Clinton hasn't specified how she will enforce the mandate.

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Obama's ad cites an Associated Press article, titled "Clinton acknowledges willingness to tap wages of those who refuse to buy health insurance." That story is a report of an interview Clinton gave to George Stephanopoulos of ABC News' This Week.

Stephanopoulos asked Clinton how she intended to enforce the mandate: "Will you have fines for people who don't buy health care, don't go by the mandate? Will you garnish their wages?"

Clinton responded by saying that her plan will lower costs and that it's an important principle that everyone be included in the system. After more pressing from Stephanopoulos, Clinton answered his question on garnished wages:

"George, we will have an enforcement mechanism, whether it's that or it's some other mechanism through the tax system or automatic enrollments, but you're missing I believe the key point. ... The reason why I think there are a number of mechanisms — going after people's wages, automatic enrollment, when you are at the place of employment, you will be automatically enrolled — whatever the mechanism is, is not as important as, number one, the fundamental commitment to universal health care, the appreciation that with health care tax credits and with a premium cap it will be affordable for everyone."

The Obama ad uses Clinton's promise of universal coverage to imply dire consequences for those who don't comply with the mandate. In practice, Clinton's plan, just like Obama's, emphasizes leaving in place employer-paid coverage that people already have, while expanding eligibility for the poor and children to enroll in initiatives like Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Both of their plans subsidize premiums for some employers and create pools for individuals to buy their own cheaper insurance. Both plans include initiatives to increase technology and use more preventative care.

Is it possible that Clinton's plan could garnish wages? Yes. Her plan has a mandate, and she said it was one of several ways that a mandate could be enforced. But she was clearly speaking of it as one scenario among several, not advocating it as a definite enforcement mechanism. For this reason, we find Obama's claim to be Half True.

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