Several appeals courts are considering constitutional challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act this summer, and many of these challenges could be renamed Limits of the Commerce Clause v. Individual Mandate. This battle is bound for the Supreme Court one way or another, and the Court will rule… one way or another.
Legal scholars can debate just how far Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 (better known as the “Commerce Clause”) can be stretched. But Americans should recognize that regardless of its constitutionality, the ACA is a tremendous government power grab, which will forever change the relationship between citizens and the state.
Section 5000A of the Affordable Care Act, also know as the “Minimum Essential” requirement mandates the vast majority of Americans obtain health insurance coverage or pay a penalty.
Proponents argue that this mandate helps people make a smart decision. Even young, healthy people run the risk of serious injury, hospitalization, or diagnosis with an uncommon ailment that could cost them thousands of dollars in treatment. It's in their interest to be insured. Moreover, they argue, when people fail to make the prudent decision of getting insurance on their own, the rest of society has to pick up the tab when the uninsured get sick and can't afford treatment.
But where do we draw the line in this kind logic? There are plenty of opportunities for Americans to make bad decisions that hurt themselves and create potential costs for society: Start smoking, gamble away all your money, drop out of high school, plan poorly for a new child… Yes, in aggregate, these bad decisions could also be said to have a big effect on government spending, and definitely a “significant effect on interstate commerce,” which is the justification for the individual mandate for health insurance.
Fortunately, Americans generally understand and appreciate the inherent value of the freedom to make individualized decisions, even if we don’t agree with others' choices. They know that allowing government to make our decisions “for our own good” or “for the good of the economy as a whole” is a profound violation of the idea of a limited government.