Author: Timothy Sandefur
The Obama administration…needs to explain why its constitutional rationale for the health insurance mandate—that the failure to obtain medical coverage, in the aggregate, has a "substantial effect" on interstate commerce—does not amount to…an open-ended license. Toward that end, it argues that health care is unique because it is expensive, everyone needs it at some point yet cannot confidently predict when, and federal law requires hospitals to treat people regardless of their ability to pay, which shifts costs to others…. [But] the distinguishing characteristics cited by the government have no basis in the Constitution or in the Supreme Court’s Commerce Clause precedents. “They are not limiting principles,” the appeals court said. “Rather, they are ad hoc factors that—fortuitously—happen to apply to the health insurance and health care industries.”
These factors may help explain why Congress wants to make people buy health insurance, but they do not explain why it has the authority to do so. And if the Supreme Court ultimately upholds the unprecedented policy of mandating purchases in the name of regulating interstate commerce, future Congresses could decide there are sound reasons to make people buy other forms of insurance (to prevent cost shifting), exercise equipment (to reduce health care costs), double-pane windows (to conserve energy), or American cars (to stimulate the economy and support domestic manufacturers).
Constitutional implications were explained by the 11th Circuit, which essentially mocked Obamacare’s unprecedented demand that everyone buy insurance simply because the government says so. “We are unable to conceive of any product whose purchase Congress could not mandate under this line of argument,” the decision said.
Pacific Legal Foundation principal attorney Timothy Sandefur said the decision is “a crucial vindication” of limited government. “The government has only certain specified powers – not the power to do whatever politicians think is a good idea.”
The 11th Circuit judges said, “[W[hat Congress cannot do under the [Constitution’s] Commerce Clause is mandate that individuals enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die.”
To uphold Obamacare’s mandate would mean there is essentially nothing the government cannot demand of us. That’s simply wrong.