Posts Tagged Supreme Court

The government is forcing us to pay for our medicine

Supreme Court protestors

Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Tuesday’s Supreme Court hearing was unusually lively. People with signs stood outside America’s highest court, and justices sparred verbally with Solicitor General Donald B. Verilli Jr. This is a momentous occasion in American politics. The biggest piece of social legislation in generations, President Obama’s healthcare reform law, is on trial.

The central issue in Tuesday’s arguments was whether the federal government can require people to get health insurance; what the administration calls the “minimum coverage provision,” popularly known as the “individual mandate.” Verilli cited Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives the federal government power over interstate commerce. The purchase of health services is part of interstate commerce, the administration argued.

The opposition argued that, since people without health insurance are not engaging in such an act of commerce, they cannot be regulated. In this view, the government would be forcing people to purchase something from a private company.

“Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. likened the individual mandate to the government forcing everyone to buy cell phones.

I am not a lawyer, but I do think Justices Kennedy and Roberts, and their conservative allies, are misinterpreting the implications of the health care law. If health insurance, and the health services it pays for, were a frivolous consumer product, they would be right. However, everyone needs to see a doctor at some point during their life. A health insurance mandate is simply stating the obvious: everyone needs to have a way to pay for their healthcare.

This simple fact has gotten caught up in a vicious debate over American freedoms that doesn’t need to be continued here. The bottom line is that everyone gets sick, medical services are expensive, and we should not kid ourselves otherwise. If your insurance company pays for your medication, that doesn’t make you the lackey of an authoritarian state. It does make you a more productive member of society, and we could use more of those.

People may be spooked by the idea of the government mandating something, but that’s kind of what it does. Congress is empowered by the people to make laws, and it has used its power over interstate commerce to regulate plenty of things. According to the New York Times, Congress used the commerce clause to regulate how much wheat is grown on family farms, and to stop home-grown marijuana. Those seem like fairly local, private, concerns, but no one seemed to care when the federal government got involved.

Some might argue that selling wheat and weed are economic transactions, while the decision not to buy health insurance is a form of inactivity. Does anyone who opposes the healthcare law own a car? If they plan on driving said car, they’ll need car insurance. As with health insurance, the people’s elected officials decided that car insurance was a necessity, and that everyone should have it.

If you get in a car accident, would it be fair if the person who hit you couldn’t pay to repair your car, so you had to fix it? Similarly, is it fair to spend the rest of your life paying medical bills after getting sick once? As a business owner, is it fair to lose an employee who can’t afford medical treatment, or customers who don’t have any  money to spend after paying their medical bills? Everyone needs a secure way to pay for their healthcare, Obama’s healthcare law is just making sure that they get one.

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