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Vulnerable Democrat Looks For Alternatives To Health Insurance Mandate

Under political pressure as a result of the new health law, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., has asked the Government Accountability Office to study alternatives to the controversial mandate requiring most Americans to obtain coverage.

The request is significant in that it could signal that Nelson is willing to work with Senate Republicans who want to repeal and replace unpopular parts of the health law, like the individual mandate that takes effect in 2014. While outright repeal is unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, Republicans may be able to woo some vulnerable, moderate Democrats, like Nelson, to work with them to change the law. Nelson is up for re-election in 2012 and his seat is likely to be a prime target for Republicans.

“Nelson is from a deep red state that is adverse to any mandates from the federal government, so it makes sense that he’d look for ways to back away from the individual mandate,” said one Republican strategist who asked not to be named.

Nelson spokesman Jake Thompson said the senator isn’t backing away from the mandate, but is “looking at possible replacements” to get the largest number of people to buy insurance.

“Senator Nelson has asked the GAO to study other ways to expand coverage and reduce the costs of uncompensated care,” Thompson said in an email to Kaiser Health News. “He’s asked the GAO to evaluate alternative incentives that encourage people to buy health insurance under the new health reform law and hopes for some information early next year.”

This is one of KHN’s “Short Takes” – brief items in the news. For the latest from KHN, check out our News section.

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Insurance The Health Law