THE EDWARDS MANDATE….Both John Edwards and Hillary Clinton include “individual mandates” in their healthcare plans that require everyone in the country to sign up for coverage. But what if you refuse to sign up anyway? Today, John Edwards explained how his plan would deal with that:

Under the Edwards plan, when Americans file their income taxes, they would be required to submit a letter from an insurance provider confirming coverage for themselves and their dependents.

If someone did not submit proof of coverage, the Internal Revenue Service would notify a newly established regional or state-based health-care agency [which] would enroll the individual into the lowest cost health-care plan available in that area….The newly covered individual would not only have access to health benefits but would also be responsible for making monthly payments with the help of a tax credit.

….If a person did not meet his or her monthly financial obligation for a set period of time (perhaps a year, perhaps longer) the Edwards plan would empower the federal government to garnish an individual’s wages for purposes of collecting “back premiums with interest and collection costs.”

Paul Krugman calls this a “terrific idea,” but I’m not so sure. There are at least two big problems here — and probably three.

First, do we really want the IRS enforcing healthcare mandates? That’s not what the IRS is for, and Americans are (rightly) suspicious of using the IRS as a quasi-police agency to enforce whatever federal law the current administration feels like using it for. This is probably not a constructive road to go down.

Second, a Rube Goldberg enforcement program like does nothing except highlight the absurdity of individual mandate healthcare plans in the first place. If you’re really this serious about getting every man, woman, and child in the country enrolled, why go through all this? Why not just do it like Medicare, where the funding mechanism is the existing tax system and everyone is enrolled automatically? It amounts to the same thing and it’s cheaper, easier, and less intrusive.

Third, this is a political loser. Do we really want to treat people who don’t sign up for healthcare like deadbeat dads and Chapter 11 refugees by garnishing their wages? Unless I’m way off base, this is just not going to go over well. Republicans will have a field day with it.

Sometimes you can offer too much detail in a campaign, and this is one of those times. No healthcare plan will survive the election in anything close to its campaign form, so why bother offering up a detailed enforcement mechanism that’s never going to see the light of day anyway? Politically it’s an albatross and substantively it’s meaningless. It’s just a mistake all around.