Americans are some of the most independent and ambitious people on the planet. People come to this country to live out their dreams—start businesses, own homes and live freely and without burdensome restrictions on what they can buy, where they must live, or what they can sell. Anything is possible here, and this notion has been critical for American prosperity.
But sometimes, even the government will test the independent spirit of its own people. That’s exactly what happened when Congress passed, and the president signed into law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) aka ObamaCare. The gauntlet thrown; the challenge accepted. And now, Americans are fighting back.
This week, when the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and its co-plaintiffs go to Atlanta to challenge PPACA before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, they will be representing a fiercely independent group of 350,000 small-business owners and employees and the citizens of 26 states. Their position: it is unconstitutional for the government to force Americans to buy health insurance whether they want it or not.
The government’s argument for the health care law is based on the Commerce Clause – the constitutional provision that says Congress can regulate commerce, meaning the buying and selling of goods and services. Is a person who is sitting at home on their couch engaging in commerce? The government says yes, which is why it contends that the health care law is constitutional.
But let’s apply some logic (and some case-law) here. That person sitting on the couch is, by definition, inactive. Activity would be something like, say, buying health insurance. Until that purchase is made and “commerce” occurs, the government has no authority to regulate “couch-sitting” and certainly no authority to force them to purchase something they may not want.
If the health care law is upheld, then all those people doing nothing, making the decision not to buy health insurance for one reason or another, will be forced into purchasing a product they do not need or want or be compelled to pay a penalty.
If this seems to you like a crushing blow to the American spirit of freedom—it is.
The government argues that the individual mandate will ensure universal health insurance coverage and there no more uncompensated claims or “free riders” to burden the system. In reality, not everyone who chooses to go without health insurance is a free rider and many do pay for their own care. The individual mandate treats everyone as a potential free rider—even those who pay their own way—and forces people to pay thousands more in insurance costs than they will ever need in health care services.
But surely, there are other ways to fix the free rider problem that do not trample individual liberty.
If the government can force Americans to purchase health insurance in the name of reducing costs, what product comes next? Where do we draw the line? Eating fruits and vegetables leads to better health, maybe even reduce health care costs, so should the government be able to mandate that we purchase and consume five servings of fruits and vegetables every day? Air pollution can exacerbate asthma and drive up the cost of health care. Should the government mandate Americans who live in big cities drive to work only three days a week to reduce smog?
If this law is not struck down, there will be no boundaries between personal choice and government mandates. The government argues that the mandate is “integral” to both the law and the regulation of the insurance industry. And since the mandate is at the very heart of the law, the entire act must go. The bill was passed as a comprehensive whole and must be struck down as a whole.
Let’s not let our great nation, based on such freedom and promise, sink into a government-run, bureaucratic entity where individuals and businesses are crushed by regulations and mandates.
Karen Harned is the executive director of the NFIB Small Business Legal Center.