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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan July 20, 2009

Obama flip-flops on requiring people to buy health care

Walk back with us through the mists of time to early 2008, and you might remember then-candidate Barack Obama defending the rights of hard-working people so they would not be forced to buy health insurance.

Obama's position was different from his two nearest rivals, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, who included mandates for individuals to buy health insurance in their plans for reform. It was an issue that got downright contentious on the campaign trail.

At a debate in South Carolina, Edwards said Obama's plan really wasn't universal health care, since it didn't have a mandate to ensure everyone was covered.

Obama replied that his plan was universal (a claim we rated Barely True ) and explained why he was against a mandate: "A mandate means that in some fashion, everybody will be forced to buy health insurance. ... But I believe the problem is not that folks are trying to avoid getting health care. The problem is they can't afford it. And that's why my plan emphasizes lowering costs."

Obama said at the time it was possible some people would refuse to buy health care under his plan.

"It's true that some people could game the system by just waiting till they get sick and then they show up," Obama said. "But keep in mind that my plan also says children will be able to stay on their parents' plan up until the age of 25. And so I don't believe that there are a whole bunch of folks out there that will not get coverage. And John, both you and Hillary have a hardship exemption where, if people can't afford to buy health care, you exempt them so that you sort of don't count them."

Let's contrast those comments with what Obama said on CBS News on July 17, 2009, after Democrats in the House of Representatives unveiled legislation that includes a mandate.

"Do you believe that each individual American should be required to have health insurance?" asked Jonathan LaPook, an M.D. and a medical correspondent for CBS News.

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"I have come to that conclusion," Obama said. "During the campaign I was opposed to this idea because my general attitude was the reason people don't have health insurance is not because they don't want it, it's because they can't afford it. And if you make it affordable, then they'll come. I am now in favor of some sort of individual mandate as long as there's a hardship exemption."

Obama said a hardship exemption should protect people who truly can't afford the required coverage.

We will agree that there's a technical argument to be made that Obama is still concerned with not punishing people for not having enough money to buy health insurance.

But it's hard to take that argument seriously when Obama used the issue of the individual mandate to wallop Hillary Clinton with negative ads.

"Hillary Clinton's attacking, but what's she not telling you about her health care plan? It forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it, and you pay a penalty if you don't," said one of his television ads .

His mailings made similar claims, which we rated Half True . At one campaign stop, Clinton waived the mailers and declared, "Shame on you, Barack Obama!"

"Meet me in Ohio," she added. "Let's have a debate about your tactics and your behavior in this campaign."

Obama was vigorous in his attacks on Clinton for including an indvidual mandate in her plan. Now that the Democrats in the House have included a mandate in health reform legislation, he's fine with it. He admitted he changed position in the interview with CBS. Full Flop!

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Obama flip-flops on requiring people to buy health care

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