Sen. Franken Explains Why He Thinks Obamacare's Individual Mandate to Buy Insurance Is Needed

By Penny Starr | January 28, 2011 | 4:01 AM EST

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said at a hearing on Obamacare Thursday on Capitol Hill that the new health care law needs a mandate to require people to buy health insurance because otherwise Americans would wait until they are sick to buy health insurance. ( Starr)

( – Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) says the new health care law's individual mandate, which will require most people to purchase health insurance, is necessary to keep Americans from waiting until they are sick to buy insurance.

Franken, a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, made his remarks Thursday at a Senate hearing as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the health insurance rules it mandates.

Franken also said he thinks most Americans support the part of the law that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Franken said those who oppose the law actually make a case for the mandate, and he cited ranking member Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), who said in his opening remarks that the law would allow people to buy health insurance on the way to the emergency room.

“Now I’ve heard that, and what that is about is, ‘Well if you have a pre-existing condition you don’t have to buy a policy until you get sick,’” Franken said. “That’s what that characterization is, isn’t it? I mean, is that your understanding of it?"

“I think that is what the senator is referring to – that you can opt in and out of the market and only purchase coverage when you are sick,” Sebelius said.

“So, isn’t that the reason for the mandate?” Franken asked. “So, in other words, when I hear my friends who are opposed to this reform, ‘Well people like – we really like the non-discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, but then you can buy a health policy on the way to the emergency room – well that’s why you have the mandate, isn’t it?”

Sebelius said risk should be pooled, and she compared not having a mandate in the law to buying car insurance after an accident has taken place.

“Well, the idea is to have a stable insurance pool and to pool risk,” said Sebelius, who was the insurance commissioner of Kansas before she was governor of the state. “As a former regulator, that’s important to have folks who have coverage and some use it and some are not using it simultaneously.

“It would be like buying car insurance after you’ve had the wreck,” Sebelius said.

But in his opening remarks, Enzi said the massive law would not benefit the majority of Americans.

“We recognize that there are individuals who will benefit from a few of the provisions in the law, but it will force Americans to buy the type of health insurance that Washington thinks they should have,” Enzi said. “Americans will not have the luxury of picking which parts of the new law apply to them, but instead will have to comply with all 2,700 pages of the new mandates, taxes and limitations on their freedom.”

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told members of a Senate committee on Thursday that Obamacare is helping millions of Americans, including those who are allowed to be on their parent’s health insurance policy until they are 26. ( Starr)

More than half of the states – 27 out of 50 – are challenging the constitutionality of the health care law in federal court, arguing that it is unconstitutional for the government to mandate that Americans purchase health insurance.

In December, Judge Henry Hudson of the U.S. District Court in Richmond, Va., sided with Virginia and its attorney general, ruling that the Constitution does not give the federal government the power to force individuals to buy health insurance.

A similar case involving 26 states is currently under judicial review in Florida.

Concerning the issue, Maine Atty. Gen. William Schneider said in statement, “The federal health care reform law mandates that all citizens to purchase health insurance or pay a costly penalty. This would be an unprecedented expansion of federal power, violating the 10th Amendment and the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.”

Also, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a statement: “The federal government simply does not have the right to force someone to buy a product – be it health insurance or any other type of goods or services that an individual may or may not want – or face a penalty.”