Commentary: Fair and optional won't work for health care

Hillary Clinton must be gnashing her teeth.

During the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama beat her up over one of the differences in their dueling health care plans. She had proposed a federal requirement that all Americans carry medical coverage. He denounced it as a plot "to go after people's wages."

Now that Obama is in the White House, the idea of an individual mandate apparently looks better. In response to a congressional plan to include such a requirement in pending health care legislation, he's calling it "a principle of shared responsibility – making every American responsible for having health insurance coverage, and asking that employers share in the costs."

Clinton had it right the first time around. As Obama now acknowledges, the proposed mandate is a matter of individual responsibility.

The best analogy is mandatory auto insurance. When an uninsured driver hits someone, he or she shifts the cost of the crash – sometimes huge hospital bills – to the victims. Some scofflaws still drive without insurance, but the requirement has reduced the number of uninsured on the roads.

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