Buy Health Care — That’s an Order!


The government will soon require by law that every American purchase health coverage from a private insurance company.

That’s a central element of the health care reform bill that Congress is finalizing. Under the so-called health insurance mandate, we all must either obtain coverage through our employers or buy it ourselves.

I’m not sure many Americans realize just how unprecedented this will be.

I’ve never been thrilled with the idea of the government forcing its citizens to buy a product from a private company.

Here’s what I wrote about the health care mandate back in August:

I’ll start with a question: What items in your life does the government require you to purchase from a private company?I’ll venture a guess at the answer: Nothing.Car insurance, you say? Not really. You’re required to buy it only if you have a car. You still have the choice whether to buy a car. No car, no insurance. Same with home insurance. You’re still choosing to buy a home.In other cases, the government mandates something but provides the means. For instance, you’re required to educate your child, but the government provides a system of free, public schools.Nowhere in our lives does the government mandate that — no matter what — we must buy a product from the private sector.But that may be about to change.

Congress is currently debating a bill that would require all Americans to have health insurance…..If the final bill mandates health insurance but doesn’t offer a public option, it would mark one of the first times the government ever required by law that Americans purchase a product from a private company.

As far as I know, this kind of requirement would be unprecedented in the history of American government. It would be akin to the government deciding that neat lawns and clean public spaces are in society’s interest, so everyone must buy a lawnmower from Walmart or Home Depot.

That may seem like a ludicrous analogy. But in basic terms — if you remove the term “health insurance” from the bill and replace it with “lawnmower” — it’s no different.

The Heritage Foundation, of all places, is making a similar argument. You can read their take here.

They contend the health insurance mandate is unconstitutional. I have no idea whether it’s constitutional. But even if lawmakers legally can do it doesn’t mean they should do it.

Supporters of the mandate argue it’s the only way to ensure that everyone has access to health insurance. They also contend it’s the only way to guard against people gaming the system — forgoing insurance until they get sick and then signing up at the last minute. That scam would be possible if — as the bill also stipulates — insurance companies can’t turn people away due to pre-existing conditions.

I doubt many people would pull that kind of scam. I suspect most Americans want health insurance and most would buy it voluntarily (without the government forcing them to) if insurance premiums were subsidized and more affordable. In fact, President Obama made that very argument last year during his debates with Hillary Clinton. Remember that the main policy disagreement between the two candidates during their primary battle was the health insurance mandate. Obama opposed it.

Not anymore, apparently.

We live in a society based on free choice. The list of requirements the government forces on every citizen is very short: pay taxes and serve in the military (during times of national crisis). That’s it. (If you can think of others, write in the comments section below.)

To that short list, it’s likely we’ll soon add a third item — buying health insurance from a private company.

I certainly admire the goal of insuring more people. But there has to be a better way.

Dave Mann is a former editor of the Observer.

Published at 12:00 am CST