As the Affordable Care Act has its day in front of the Supreme Court, at issue is the individual mandate that is the very heart of the law. So if the healthcare mandate is declared unconstitutional, does that mean that auto insurance mandates are similarly unconstitutional?
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, then you’ve probably heard that the Supreme Court’s hearing on the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” as Republicans so love to derisively call it, has begun in earnest over the last two days. At issue is the matter of whether or not the individual mandate—the requirement that everyone who can afford to purchase some form of health insurance does so or face a penalty—is constitutional under the Commerce Clause. Republicans, despite their zeal for the idea not too long ago, and despite the fact that Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney pioneered a nearly identical plan as governor of Massachusetts, are vehemently opposed to the federal government “taking away our freedom” by forcing its citizens to buy a health insurance plan that they will with near absolute certainty need to use at some point in their lives.
Let’s set aside for a moment that the individual mandate was originally a Republican idea that was passionately advocated by Republicans just a short time ago. Set aside the fact that ever since President Obama adopted the mechanism and incorporated it into his historic healthcare reform initiative Republicans have suddenly done a complete 180 and decided that it’s the absolute worst idea since banking regulation and in no way constitutional. ‘Cause, you know, there’s some sort of not-so-secret pact amongst Republicans to oppose absolutely everything that Obama says he’s in favor of. I mean, if Obama said that he liked puppies, Republicans would suddenly embark on a crusade to rid the nation of those vile, nasty, anti-American puppies.
So let’s set aside the fact that the entire plan from top to bottom has Republican fingerprints all over it. The question before the Supreme Court is whether, under the Commerce Clause, the government can mandate the purchase of health insurance. The argument goes that since health insurance is something that absolutely everyone is going to need at some point in their lives, those that don’t have it and who subsequently find themselves in need of medical care but cannot afford to pay for it themselves affect the cost of health care for absolutely everybody else. Current estimates say that the uninsured add an extra $1,000 to everyone else’s healthcare costs. And by mandating that everyone have some form of health coverage, it increases the risk pool which brings down the cost for everyone since there will inherently be more healthy people in the market and far fewer without coverage and unable to pay for medical care when they need it……and they will need it.
That’s the basic argument on the part of the government: That because the cost of healthcare effects absolutely everyone at some point or other, then Congress has the authority to regulate it. Besides, everyone pays into Social Security and Medicare, and those are deemed perfectly constitutional.
The opposition—the 26 states that are suing to overturn the law—asserts that “Obamacare” is a bridge too far. If the government can force its citizens to buy health coverage, then what’s to stop them from mandating a gym membership? What’s to stop the government from forcing people to buy broccoli, as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick put it in an appearance on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” “because, after all, broccoli is even more highly correlated to good health outcomes than health insurance.” The opposition, she says, is giving us the old slippery slope argument that first health insurance, then broccoli, then all of a sudden the government will mandate that everyone buy a GM car in order to boost the economy.
The opposition decries the fact that, for the first time, instead of the government regulating activity, now the government is seeking to regulate inactivity (i.e. the desire to not purchase health insurance).
Ok, so the argument is that the government should not be allowed to mandate the purchase of insurance because, you know, “freedom” and “liberty” and all that good stuff. The government shouldn’t be allowed to mandate health insurance but it should be allowed to mandate medical procedures totally and completely unnecessary to abortion services (ultrasound laws).
But here’s another one that’s even more relevant to the current argument: The government is not allowed to mandate health insurance coverage, but they can mandate auto insurance? Every state with the exception of New Hampshire and Wisconsin require liability insurance in order to legally drive a car. Without proof of auto insurance, you cannot register your car, and if you cannot register your car, you cannot legally drive your car. And if you are pulled over and don’t have valid insurance or a valid registration, you are penalized in the form of a hefty fine and possibly the suspension of your driver’s license, not to mention the impounding of your car.
And don’t give me this “state’s rights” B.S. A mandate is a mandate. Why should the state be allowed to force me to buy something that I have never once used in all of the years that I have had a license to drive <*knocking firmly on wood here, throwing salt over my shoulder, and whatever other superstitious countermeasures I can think of*>, but the federal government is not allowed to mandate health insurance coverage? And it is an Interstate Commerce issue, since an uninsured person could just as easily get sick or injured in Arizona as he or she could in their home state of, say, California (Arizona is one of the states suing to overturn the law, but oddly enough they, like 47 other states, mandate auto insurance). And if an uninsured person from California gets sick or injured in Arizona, then it’s the fine people of Arizona that are stuck footing the bill if he or she can’t pay.
If a system of health coverage works in Massachusetts—a system that was created by a Republican Governor that is now running for President of the United States but now opposes his own health care plan—why should that plan not work on a national level? And why should we listen to that guy who created that very system tell us now why it’s such a craptastic idea for the country when just three years ago he was telling anyone who would listen what a brilliant idea it was for the country because it was working so well in Massachusetts?
If the healthcare mandate is unconstitutional on a national level, then it should be deemed unconstitutional on the state level. And if it’s unconstitutional on the state level, so is the requirement to purchase car insurance.
If the healthcare law is overturned, I for one will look forward to the ensuing repeal of all auto insurance mandates. ‘Cause, you know, the guvmint shouldn’t be allowed to force me to buy something I don’t want, no matter how much my actions affect those around me.