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Obama's health reform isn't modeled after Heritage Foundation ideas

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The other charge -- repeated on this page and elsewhere -- is that the federal individual mandate in Obama's health-care plan came from us.

For the record, we think that the law's federal mandate is unconstitutional. Our legal center, led by former attorney general Edwin Meese III, notes that Congress has no authority to force an American to buy any good or service merely as a requirement of being alive.

Yes, in the early 1990s, we, along with other prominent conservative economists, supported the idea of such a mandate. It seemed the only way to solve the "free-rider" problem, in which individuals can, under federal law, walk into any hospital emergency room nationwide and rack up big bills at taxpayer expense.

Our research in the ensuing two decades has led us to realize our initial idea was operationally ineffective and legally defective. Well before Obama was elected, we dropped it. In the spring 2008 edition of the Harvard Health Policy Review, I advanced far better alternatives to the individual mandate to expand coverage, relying on positive tax incentives and other mechanisms to facilitate enrollment in private health insurance. This is what researchers and fact-based policymakers do when they discover new facts or conduct deeper analysis.

The president and his supporters invoke the Heritage Foundation to convince the American people that his health bill is somehow a middle-of-the-road approach. It isn't. So please, Mr. President, stop it.

The writer, a deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services during the Reagan administration, is director of the Center for Health Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.


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