ST. LOUIS • With 2012 Republican opposition already circling, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill continues to question a key component of the president's health care plan.
Politico has McCaskill, who's already attracted two GOP contenders hoping to unseat her, joining a band of moderate Senate Democrats exploring ways to replace the mandate portion of the health care legislation approved by Congress last year.
McCaskill told Politico writer Manu Raju that they are looking for something "less than a mandate," such as limited enrollment periods with financial penalties for not signing up. (That's not a mandate?)
"It may be that the mandate is the only way we can do it," McCaskill said. "But I think we should explore it."
Under the plan signed into law last year, individuals could eventually face a fine of up to 2.5 percent of their income for not having insurance.
The argument for mandating coverage is tied to the health care law's prohibition on rejecting individuals with pre-existing conditions. The concern is that people won't get insurance until they get sick, knowing the insurance company cannot legally turn them away. That would not only drive up costs, but also raise issues of fairness among the insured.
Still, it is not a popular in Missouri -- 71 percent of voters in the August election embraced Prop. C, which says the state should reject the federal health care requirement.
The Politico story suggests that Republicans may be wary about providing "political cover" to vulnerable Dems by stretching across the aisle to work with them on the mandate question.
McCaskill, seeking a second term, says her push is about policy, not politics.
“My goal has always been pretty simple: affordable, accessible, private-market insurance for people in America who want insurance," she told Politico. "The politics of this are hard; it’s just easier to stay focused on the substance because that’s what matters.”