It was once a major bone of contention between then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, as they campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton's health care proposal required Americans to have health insurance, similarly in theory to how drivers are required to have car insurance. Obama's didn't.
"Senator Clinton is arguing that the only way to get every American covered is if you force every American to buy health care," Mr. Obama told Iowa reporters in November 2007. "And unfortunately she hasn't told anybody how she would enforce this mandate."
During a contentious debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, Mr. Obama said "the only difference between Senator Clinton's health care plan and mine is that she thinks the problem for people without health care is that nobody has mandated — forced — them to get health care. That's not what I'm seeing around Nevada. What I see are people who would love to have health care. They — they desperately want it. But the problem is they can't afford it."
He underlined again during the debate: "I don't think that the problem with the American people is that they are not being forced to get health care."
But during his interview with Diane Sawyer, President Obama said that while "mandates are an example of… something that I was resistant to during the campaign… this is an area where people have made some pretty compelling arguments to me that if we want to have a system that drives down costs for everybody, then we've got to have healthier people not opt out of the system. And I think that you have to be careful to make sure that there's a waiver. So that if we haven't made health care affordable yet, you're not punishing people, not only because they can't afford health care, but — now giving 'em an additional fine."
The president said that "any program that we put in place, I think there will be some phase-in period. So that we can calibrate and adjust to make sure that there really is affordability there before we start trying to penalize people. But I think my thinking on the issue of mandates has evolved. And I think that that is typical of most people who study this problem deeper."