Individual Mandate

Congress is now weighing different versions of a requirement that individuals obtain health insurance.

A mandate requiring all persons over the age of 18 to acquire health insurance is a key component of both House- and Senate-passed health reform proposals. The concept of requiring people to acquire health insurance has drawn criticism from some on the right—who see it as a coercive intrusion by the federal government—and some on the left—who view it as a giveaway to insurance companies. Proponents of current legislation, however, view the individual mandate as both a necessary cost-control provision and a key step towards universal coverage.

While it is highly probable that an individual mandate will be part of the final health reform legislation, the exact nature of the individual mandate is still being debated.

The individual mandate might practically function by addressing the following:

  • How the government would help people satisfy the mandate;
  • How the mandate would be enforced;
  • What its basic requirement would be and what the definition of acceptable coverage is;
  • Who would be exempted.

This Health Policy Brief examines the individual mandate and the role it would play in implementing the largely interdependent pieces of reform. It was published online on January 13, 2010 in Health Affairs.