This morning’s puzzler: How do we the people view the individual mandate!


We’d have to say it depends: In this morning’s New York Times, three journalists report the results of a new survey concerning the health care law. To read the report, click here.

At first glance, we were most struck by Americans’ view concerning the individual mandate.

Oof! In response to question 3 in the survey, 67 percent of respondents said they wanted the mandate “overturned.” More specifically, 38 percent said they wanted the entire law overturned. An additional 29 percent said they wanted just the mandate overturned. (Given those choices, only 26 percent said they wanted “to keep the entire health care law in place.” To review the full survey, click this.)

The New York Times featured those results in its accompanying graphic. But uh-oh! The Times also featured the responses to survey question 11. In response to that question, 45 percent said they approve of the individual mandate; 51 percent said they disapprove.

Does this involve a contradiction? If only 51 percent of respondents “disapprove of a provision in the 2010 health care law that requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance by 2014,” why do 67 percent want to see the mandate overturned? Do you think a contradiction is involved? Or can you find your way out of this apparent puzzler?

For ourselves, we’re still pondering. A person might want to have the whole law overturned even though he or she doesn’t disapprove of the individual mandate. Does that explain the apparent puzzle? Is the apparent contradiction a mirage?

It’s possible. After all, in response to another question, 36 percent say they approve of the health care law; 47 percent say they disapprove, with the rest having no opinion. But if 36 percent approve, why do only 26 percent say they want the entire law to survive? Do some people approve of the overall law even though they disapprove of the individual mandate?

You won’t get any help from the Times! In best fashion, the Times selected these semi-puzzling results to feature in their graphic. But in the accompanying news report, not a word is said about the semi-puzzles lurking in the data they chose to feature.

We’re not saying they should have explained. Like Paul Reiser, we’re just saying.

In response to another question: 48 percent of respondents say they "understand how the law will affect" them and their family.

Saying this doesn't make it so. We've never been entirely clear on the purpose of such survey questions.


  1. As with most things, it depends on context and the way the question is asked. If you explain to folks that the uninsured will be treated anyway and that the cost is passed on to those who do have insurance then the answers change dramatically. People have reacted to the talking points and not to what the Bill may or may not actually accomplish. Since there are 1000 pages to this puppy it is unlikely that anyone has actually read the whole thing.

  2. It's not surprising that there's widespread support for such aspects of the law as requiring insurance companies to cover people with a pre-existing medical condition, allowing children to remain on their parents’ policies until the age of 26, and reducing the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare recipients. People support a law's benefits, when the question ignores cost and ignores how well the promised benefits will actually be delivered. Unfortunately, these two items can only be guessed. Presumably certain governmental services be cut to pay the additional cost of Obamacare. Presumably, the extra costs put onto employers will lead to lower salaries and higher unemployment.

    To illustrate the difference between theory and reality, consider this 2006 study of the UK National Health:

    A six-year survey of four million operations found that 85 per cent of the most vulnerable patients do not get the intensive care that could save their lives or prevent serious complications.
    As a result, it is estimated that up to 5,000 frail and elderly patients die each year because they are not put in intensive care beds for monitoring after their operations.

    IMHO ignoring costs and practicality has led to a perpetual trillion dollar deficit.

    1. Presumably certain governmental services be cut to pay the additional cost of Obamacare. Presumably, the extra costs put onto employers will lead to lower salaries and higher unemployment.

      Presumably, in fact certainly, you don't know what you're talking about.

      There is no reason to cut "certain governmental services" to pay additional costs of the ACA, if in fact there are any. And there is no reason why any extra costs put onto employers must lead to lower salaries and higher unemployment. You are just assuming that taxes cannot be raised and that costs will not be passed on. You are also assuming that costs will continue to rise unabated after the ACA is fully implemented, something that we do not yet know and that at least in theory will not happen.

      You are right that ignoring costs and practicality has led to trillion dollar deficits. It was always impractical to insist on cutting taxes for the wealthy while fighting unending overseas wars and letting the malefactors of great wealth loot the public treasury at will.

      I'm not sure what theory/reality contrast you are trying to illustrate with that 2006 article. Those elderly patient deaths were attributed to discrimination and lack of facilities, not inability to provide facilities due to cost; and if you read the whole article you would see that the study cited did not take into account a 2001 initiative intended to directly address the problem.

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  4. A previous poll found that 30-something percent of respondents supported the individual mandate, but when they were informed that having insurance through your employer satisfied the mandate, that jumped to 60-something percent approval.

    People do not understand the law.

    It seems obvious to many that if you already have insurance, you will not be required to purchase insurance. Because you already have it. But I still hear journalists describing the law without also explaining precisely what the mandate means. So some people continue to be confused.