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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher July 15, 2012

GOP Wisconsin Senate candidate Tommy Thompson says he never backed individual mandate

Among conservatives, a hated provision of federal health care reform is the "individual mandate," which requires Americans (with some exceptions) to buy health insurance.

That sentiment has left Republican Tommy Thompson in a difficult spot as he vies with three opponents in the August 2012 primary for U.S. Senate.

The former governor and U.S. health and human services secretary has made statements for and against the health care reform legislation that eventually became law. That led us to rate Half True a claim by the national Club for Growth, a conservative group, that Thompson supported "Obamacare."

On June 13, 2012, two weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court declared most of the reform law constitutional, Thompson issued two Internet statements about the individual mandate.  

In one message from a Twitter account for his campaign, Thompson said he "didn’t support the individual mandate."

And in the other tweet, directed at Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter, he went further, stating:

"Can’t back down from something (i.e. the individual mandate) that you never supported, Canter."

Taken together, Thompson is claiming he "never supported" the individual mandate.
Never is pretty absolute, so let’s check the record.

Opponents’ evidence

Arguing that Thompson did support the mandate, Canter cited a video clip released by the Washington, D.C.-based Club for Growth the day before the Supreme Court ruling.

(While the national Club for Growth has repeatedly attacked Thompson, and is supporting Republican Mark Neumann in the Senate race, the Wisconsin chapter has not.)

In the clip, Thompson speaks at a national health care reform forum at American University in Washington, D.C. At the April 2006 event, held more than two years before Obama’s election, Thompson refers to reform in Massachusetts, saying:

"You’ve also got to consider strongly -- and I happen to support that, what Massachusetts did -- and that is requiring health insurance, the coverage of health insurance. This is a little bit opposed to what Republicans really think or propose. But the truth of the matter is, just like automobile insurance, you’ve got to have coverage. And if you’re going to be able to cover the uninsured, you’re going to have to have some degree of a mandate to cover the uninsured."

Both Canter and Club for Growth also cited video of a University of Texas speech in February 2007 in which Thompson says:

"I, for one, believe the mandate for health insurance is all right. We mandate insurance for automobiles. You know you can’t drive in Texas without automobile insurance. You can’t drive in any state without automobile insurance. It’s a mandate, but it’s certainly something that we should discuss in this country, and I think that’s positive."

So, Thompson said he supported Massachusetts’ health insurance requirement and said such a mandate is "all right," although both statements were made before Obama’s reform efforts were launched.

Thompson’s evidence

To defend Thompson’s claim, his campaign spokesman, Brian Nemoir, said Thompson "is the only candidate who has testified before Congress against the mandates." He cited a portion of Thompson’s May 2008 testimony to the Senate Finance Committee:

"I am not convinced that the individual mandate is the correct approach," Thompson said, according to a transcript. "We have seen in Massachusetts that the individual mandate approach is not effective at covering the most vulnerable part of the population, that part of the population which needs coverage the most."

So, after the generally supportive statements in 2006 and 2007, Thompson in 2008, shortly before Obama’s election, indicated he did not support an individual mandate.

Nemoir also cited an August 2011 report by the University of Pennsylvania-based, which concluded that Club for Growth had falsely attacked Thompson as a "champion of Obamacare," and he provided statements saying Thompson opposes what eventually became law.

But Thompson’s past or current positions on the overall reform are not at issue here.

In our item about Club for Growth’s claim about Thompson, Thompson’s campaign noted that Thompson at a July 2008 forum on a "universal mandate" for health insurance said: "I don’t want a mandate." But moments later Thompson said: "I’m not opposed to it, I just don’t think it’s the most practical way."

Our rating

Thompson said he "never supported" an individual mandate.

But while he is now an opponent of the health care reform law and its mandate requiring most Americans to buy health insurance, Thompson said in 2006 he supported a mandate and in 2007 said a mandate is "all right."

We rate Thompson’s statement False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Tommy Thompson campaign, "Tommy didn’t support the individual mandate or the finance committee version" tweet, June 13, 2012

Tommy Thompson campaign, "Can’t back down from something (i.e. the individual mandate) that you never supported, Canter." tweet, June 13, 2012

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Club for Growth says potential Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Thompson supported ‘Obamacare,’" Aug. 31, 2011

Interview and email interview, Tommy Thompson campaign senior advisor/communications Brian Nemoir, July 2 and 10, 2012

Email interview, Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller, June 29, 2012

Interview and email interview, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director Matt Canter, June 29 and July 2, 2012, video clip of Tommy Thompson remarks at forum, April 17, 2006, Tommy Thompson speech (at 47:55) in Texas, Feb. 8, 2007, "A pre-emptive and false attack in Wisconsin," Aug. 31, 2011

Kaiser Family Foundation, "Summary of new health reform law"

Politico, "Health care reform: Individual mandate will not affect most Americans," March 26, 2012

Politico, "Health care remarks haunt Tommy Thompson," July 8, 2012

Tommy Thompson testimony on health care reform to Senate Finance Committee, May 6, 2008

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GOP Wisconsin Senate candidate Tommy Thompson says he never backed individual mandate

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