The WSJ takes up the question of whether Hillary's health care mandates can actually allow her to declare her health plan as creating universal coverage:
The argument concerns whether the government should require all Americans to get insurance. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Edwards would require people to get insurance, either through work, a government program or new health marketplaces that all three candidates promise to set up. Mr. Obama would only require that children be insured.
Other elements of their plans are similar, including subsidies to help lower-income and even middle-income families pay premiums, and various proposals to cut the cost of health care. The candidates say they would pay for their plans by rolling back President Bush's tax cuts for upper-income earners and by savings in health spending through various measures.
Mrs. Clinton charges that Mr. Obama's plan would leave 15 million people without insurance. Outside experts agree that number is in the ballpark. If people aren't required by law to buy insurance, many won't. There are millions of children, for instance, who remain uninsured, even though they qualify for free or subsidized government programs.
In addition, all three candidates want to bar insurance companies from rejecting sick people or charging them more. But it is hard to require companies to insure expensive sick people if they aren't guaranteed that cheap healthy people will balance them out.
Mr. Obama has replied that her attacks are more about politics than substance; they didn't come, he noted, until she lost ground in the polls. But his advisers don't dispute her central charge. Rather, they claim Mrs. Clinton's plan would also leave millions without coverage.
Obama adviser Austan Goolsbee argues that if Mrs. Clinton's health plan is enacted, she will have to waive the mandate for millions of people. That is because, he says, there isn't enough money for subsidies to make health insurance affordable enough for people to buy it.
"You can't put in a mandate until health care is affordable," he says. He predicted that a Hillary Clinton administration would wind up exempting 20% of the uninsured, or about 10 million people. That is the percentage of uninsured adults who were exempted in Massachusetts, the only state to try an individual mandate.
That view may not be true. Ken Thorpe, a health-policy expert at Emory University who has advised all three major Democrats, said he ran cost estimates for the Clinton plan at the Clinton campaign's request, and found there should be enough money to make insurance affordable for all. He said he ran three scenarios with varying levels of subsidies -- from $100 billion a year to $120 billion a year. The campaign chose one in the middle: $110 billion.
If it turns out that isn't enough money to make health premiums affordable, Mrs. Clinton would have to spend more on subsidies, one of her health-care advisers said.
But, the adviser said, it is wrong to assume that 20% of Americans will be exempted. It is impossible to say for certain, because the campaign has not explained how large the subsidies will be or who will qualify for them.
Ms. Seelye of the NY Times also joins in with a bit of a Hillary-basher:
Clinton Attack on Obama Overlooks Some Realities
...But while Mrs. Clinton is right that Mr. Obama’s plan would leave out millions, she is being misleading in implying that her own plan covers everyone. Mandates rarely achieve 100 percent compliance. In addition, they are almost impossible to enforce.
Because of those difficulties, Mrs. Clinton’s own plan would probably leave out millions.
Mandates have not worked with auto insurance. While all drivers are required to have it, 15 percent of the nation’s drivers have none, according to the Insurance Research Council.
Austan Goolsbee, an economics professor at the University of Chicago and senior economic adviser to the Obama campaign, said the Clinton campaign should acknowledge that its plan would leave out at least as many as Mr. Obama’s — partly because Mrs. Clinton has not said how she would enforce her mandate.
“She has not suggested a penalty,” Mr. Goolsbee said. “If there’s not a major penalty for skipping out on insurance, people will skip out on it.”
Ms. Seelye describes the American Enterprise Institute as "non-partisan", which draws Paul Krugman's ire. His near-substantive contribution is to tell us that "many, many health experts believe that Obama is wrong, and that mandates are both feasible and essential", but he doesn't trouble himself with the tedium of naming names, so there we are.
Matt Yglesias has some sensible ruminations, wondering who will be helped her hurt by the Clinton and Obama plans and concludes with this:
My sense is that mandate advocates are trying to obscure the fact that most of the people who wouldn't have comprehensive insurance after the proposed Obama reforms are people who'd be screwed-over by a mandate.
UPDATE: I should have added that these are people who arguably should be screwed over. The goal of national health care policy should be to support the needs of the poor and the sick, and the individual mandate is a clumsy way of doing that by making the prosperous and healthy cross-subsidize their insurance premiums.
That is quite an update! My sense (shared by this commenter) is that the young, healthy working near-poor are the least likely to go looking for insurance, but screw 'em.
Finally, there is this table-pounder in support of Obama:
Krugman also insists that Clinton’s plan makes more economic sense. He says that forcing young, healthy workers to buy insurance they don’t think they need will subsidize insurance for others, making “universal coverage” affordable.
But that analysis is hopelessly simplistic. Who are those young, healthy workers likely to be? White-collar and other highly paid workers won’t refuse to buy insurance; its cost amounts to a small portion of their pay. Nor will older workers and workers with families, who need insurance more and know it. So the people most likely to “self-insure” are young, single blue-collar workers (including the poor and near-poor), for whom the cost of insurance is a substantial part of their earnings.
Forcing these people to buy insurance they don’t want will have two adverse effects. Politically, it will drive young, single, healthy workers away from the Democratic party. It will put the so-called “Reagan Democrats” back in the arms of the Republicans, precisely when Democrats need them to consolidate their status as a majority party. For someone supposedly astute at politics, that’s a downright stupid thing to do.
Economically, Clinton’s mandate will turn the health-care system into a regressive tax. Imposing extra costs on young, single, healthy, low-paid workers in order to finance others’ health care will put part of the burden on those who can least afford it.
Obviously, some of this debate is in a vacuum - until we know what subsidies and penalties are involved it is virtually impossible to guess who will be helped or hurt by the proposals. And Hillary has no intention of discussing any possible penalties for non-compliance; Edwards did and was panned (except by Krugman!).
No worries - eventually Jonathan Cohn will solve this for the rest of us.