Vehicle owners must buy car insurance. Similarly, the US government could require individuals to buy health insurance.
A top Republican Senator said Sunday that he believes such an individual healthcare mandate could pass Congress. But a requirement that employers provide health coverage likely would not.
The comments come as Democratic leaders in Congress and administration officials intensify efforts to pass President Obama's healthcare reform plan. Healthcare is likely to be a big topic in Washington this week.
Several key players laid out their positions Sunday, providing an indication of how the coming debate might take shape, and where compromises might – and might not – be struck.
There is less consensus, however, about whether legislation that emerges from Congress should tax employer-provided health benefits.
Some analysts believe that is a logical way to help pay for an ambitious expansion in national coverage. Others point out that such a move would also constitute a tax hike on the middle class – something President Obama has pledged to avoid.
The administration, for its part, continues to oppose such a move.
The administration envisions a government-run health insurance program that would compete with private firms, Vice President Biden said. But it could be flexible as to how such a government program is structured, he added.
"We have made it clear there should be a public plan ... but the question is, what is the public plan?" he said.
Such a government insurance program is necessary because, despite the plethora of choices in many areas, some states do not have a lot of competition in health insurance, administration officials say.
"The president feels that having a public option side by side, same playing field, same rules, will give Americans choice and will help lower costs for everybody," said Secretary Sebelius, who was governor of Kansas from 2003 to 2009.
Senator Conrad supports an alternative in which the government would help establish membership-based health insurance cooperatives.