PoliGraph: Pawlenty right on Obama’s health care record

During the first Republican presidential debate of the 2012 campaign, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty reminded viewers that President Barack Obama was against a requirement that everyone buy health insurance before he was for it.

Just a few years ago, Obama "promised the nation he would do health care reform focused on cost containment, he opposed the individual mandate," Pawlenty said on

May 5, 2011.

Pawlenty got this one right.

The Evidence

While campaigning for the White House, then-Sen. Barack Obama wanted everyone in the country to have health care - he just didn't want to require people to buy it.

In fact, Obama and former Sen. Hillary Clinton frequently traded barbs over the issue: Clinton highlighted the so-called individual mandate in her plan, claiming her strategy would cover more Americans than Obama's would. Obama would counter that not everyone could afford health insurance.

"If a mandate was the solution, we could try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody buy a house," he told CNN in 2008. "The reason they don't have a house is because they don't have the money."

In 2009, just as debate over the health care bill was starting to heat up, a CBS News interviewer asked Obama, "Do you believe that each individual American should be required to have health insurance?"

"I have come to that conclusion," Obama responded. "During the campaign I was opposed to this idea because my general attitude was the reason people don't have health insurance is not because they don't want it, it's because they can't afford it."

Ultimately, the individual mandate became a focal point in the health care debate. The final law requires that everyone have health insurance by 2014. Those who don't will pay a fine.

The Verdict

It's true that Obama once opposed the individual mandate. Pawlenty's claim is accurate.


Fox News, Republican Presidential Debate, May 5, 2011

PolitiFact.com, Obama flip-flops on requiring people to buy health care, by Angie Drobnic Holan, July 20, 2009

FactCheck.org, They've Got You Covered?, by Lori Robertson and Jess Henig, February 14, 2008

CBS News, The Future of Health Care Reform, July 15, 2009

The New York Times, transcript of the Democratic debate in South Carolina, Jan. 21, 2008

The Cato Institute, Obama Flip-Flops on the Individual Mandate (Again), by Michael Cannon, July 19, 2010

The Kaiser Family Foundation, Summary of Coverage Provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, April 14, 2011


The Humphrey School

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.