President Barack Obama, under fire from the courts, Congress and GOP governors over the individual mandate, appeared for the first time on Monday to back off somewhat from the controversial federal mandate that all citizens must have health insurance coverage.
"If you have a better way of doing it, help yourself," Obama said
during a meeting with the nation's governors. "Go ahead, take that route."
The president says he supports a plan allowing states to apply for a waiver to opt out of the individual mandate in 2014, rather than 2017 as currently specified in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Polls show the individual mandate to be among the least popular provisions of healthcare reform. It's also the target of most of the legal challenges.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 67 percent of voters would like to see the individual mandate jettisoned from the Affordable Care Act. But the entire edifice of healthcare reform rests on the assumption that the costs of the entitlement would be spread across all citizens' policies.
Obama's proposed change to the reform legislation passed by Congress would give governors more flexibility in how they address the health insurance needs of their constituents.
Under current law, if governors wanted to avoid the individual mandate, they would have to wait until 2017, three years after the individual mandate takes effect, to apply for a waiver. But Obama's proposal would enable them to apply for an exception on day one of the program.
There's a catch for governors looking to opt out of ObamaCare's individual mandate, however: They would have to demonstrate to federal health officials that their alternative proposals, presumably health-insurance exchanges, would cover at least the same number of people, at the same or lower cost, as provided under the federal program.
In recent weeks the administration has been seeking ways to give the states flexibility in addressing the dire economic circumstances many of them face.
Last week administration officials said they would ease off on Medicaid requirements, if they were contributing to states' economic stress.
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