March 18, 2012

Maine Voices: Individual mandates are nothing new

Auto insurance laws show that government is capable of creating solutions to collective problems, such as health care.


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A worker tosses blue Portland trash bags into a garbage truck on Dalton Street.

2008 Press Herald file

The auto mandates, even those requiring people to buy insurance that protects them rather than others, are a reasonable way of sharing and spreading the costs and risks of driving, which is a vital part of our economy and most of our lives.

The Heritage Foundation, now a critic of the health insurance mandate, in 1989 trumpeted the idea of an individual mandate to broaden coverage, promote individual responsibility and foster private competition. It favorably cited auto insurance mandates as relevant precedent for a health insurance mandate. Similarly, Gov. Mitt Romney touted auto insurance mandates as the model for Massachusetts' first-in-the-nation 2006 mandatory health insurance law. In turn, the federal individual mandate was modeled on the Massachusetts law.

Both Massachusetts and the federal government recognized that automobile insurance laws show how individual insurance mandates, besides broadening the risk pool so that risks are widely shared, can lead to competition, innovation and other benefits to consumers.

Like auto insurance and those pesky trash bags, the individual mandate creatively addresses social and economic problems that have long defied other solutions and that stand to endanger all of us if not addressed.

Jennifer Wriggins is a professor at the University of Maine School of Law.


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