President Obama "Open" To Coverage Mandate For All Americans

President Obama on Wednesday signaled in a letter to top Senate Democrats that he may be open to requiring all Americans to have health insurance coverage as part of health care reform.

The Washington Post: "In his push to enact sweeping health-care reform legislation this summer, Obama previewed what could be the outlines of a compromise on two of the thorniest issues confronting Congress. He said he could support mandates on both individuals and employers to contribute to the cost of health insurance if the bill provides protections to certain small businesses and poor people." Employers would be asked by the government to share in the costs of covering their employees, and if they refuse they would face a penalty.

Obama mentioned the hardship waiver in the letter addressed to key committee chairmen, Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, late Tuesday. He outlined his support for some facets of the reform, insisting again that they send him a bill to sign by the end of the year. Last year, during the presidential primaries, "Obama attacked then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's proposed individual mandate as a scheme to 'go after people's wages,'" the Post recalls.

Draft legislation of a health reform bill may be available to Senate Finance Committee members June 17, with markup starting the following week (Connolly, 6/4).

At least one Republican lawmaker praised Obama's effort, according to The Los Angeles Times: "'Having the president engaged in the legislative debate with yesterday's meeting and today's letter, which doesn't draw lines in the sand, is helpful because of his statements that reform legislation needs to have bipartisan support,' said Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee" (Levey, 6/4).

Politico writes: "Obama’s positions on these issues were not entirely surprising, but his decision to weigh in before congressional Democratic leaders released a single bill was unexpected. Prior to the letter, Obama and his aides had declined to say specifically where he stood on various issues, including the public plan and individual mandate, saying they wanted Congress to lead the way in writing a bill" (Brown, 6/3).

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