The EFM Feature
Ambassador Jon Huntsman, taken by flickr user saucy_pan, used under a Creative Commons license

Over at POLITICO, Byron Tau asks, and answers intelligibly, something you don’t often see in our current health-care debate:

Conservatives have been attacking Jon Huntsman over his previous flirtation with an individual mandate as govern of Utah — but a Huntsman spokesman noted that the series of laws that the governor eventually signed into law ultimately lacked a requirement that citizens purchase insurance.┬áBut it raises the question — what exactly was the health care bill that Huntsman signed into law as governor of Utah?

What Huntsman eventually signed into law was more of a blueprint for changes. By 2007, the governor’s office had made health care a top priority. The initial plan that his office released, in conjunction with outside groups like the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and the United Way, called for a mandate and the creation of a nonprofit health exchange, both features that ended up in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The Chamber signed onto the plan in early 2008, just as the legislature took up the bill

The draft version of Huntsman’s plan was a starting point for negotiations in the Utah legislature, but the individual mandate proved controversial among lawmakers. Behind closed doors, the mandate was stripped and eventually the legislature settled on a bill that simply created a task force. The task force was charged with developing the plan, taking the issue partly out of the hands of legislature. But as late as February 2008, Huntsman was still pushing the mandate idea.

“I’m very willing to let this year play out to see where we find ourselves in a year,” Huntsman told the Salt Lake Tribune about the reform commission. “If that doesn’t work, then I think we’re looking very realistically at an individual mandate.”

By the start of 2009, the mandate was dead. But, Huntsman signed a package of reforms into law, including the creation of an insurance exchange similar to what Massachusetts set up under Gov. Mitt Romney. The exchanges are part of the national health care bill, and Utah remains ahead of most other states in implementing the changes required by the federal law.

And Huntsman’s health care effort drew conservative applause at the time — even as he comes under fire for considering an individual mandate.

“The ambassador-designee promised a Senate panel Thursday that, if confirmed, he would press American values in China. If only the Obama administration would press Huntsman’s health-care reform values here in the United States,” wrote Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post. The conservative Heritage Foundation wrote that “Utah’s specific model could yield positive results in other states.”

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

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