The Individual Mandate Will Stand

DrRich | March 25th, 2010 - 6:58 pm

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People who do not like the new healthcare system our government is establishing for us intend to formally challenge the constitutionality of one of its major provisions, namely, the “individual mandate” – the provision that all individuals must purchase health insurance.

The grounds for challenging the individual mandate, essentially, is that the Constitution does not grant the federal government the authority to compel legal residents of the U.S. to purchase a particular product, or enter into a particular contract, simply as a matter of their being legal residents. For many of those who object to the new healthcare law, the individual mandate goes to the principle reason for their objections – that the government has assumed for itself sweeping new powers that directly impinge on the liberty of individuals.

DrRich himself feels this way. If the government can make us buy a product against our will for the sake of the common good, then a firewall will have been taken down, and DrRich does not see any fundamental barrier to the government being allowed to compel us to any action it deems to be for the common good.

For instance, since your obesity, by sucking up limited healthcare resources, will impinge on DrRich’s ability to get whatever healthcare services he thinks he might desire, DrRich can now legitimately petition the government to regulate your intake of Twinkies. You fatty. And as for all you overweight middle-aged women out there, who habitually fail to perform the hour-per-day of exercise that best medical evidence insists you perform, it would be entirely appropriate for the President’s proposed army of college-age zealots – the Civilian Service Corps or whatever he’s going to call it – to show up every day to organize you and your similarly-shaped neighbors into ranks, for hour-long forced marches.

You may think DrRich exaggerates. DrRich hopes so, too. But he’s not sure.

In any case, for those among his readers who do not want any constitutional challenge of the new healthcare law to succeed, DrRich has good news. It won’t.

DrRich has come to this conclusion after reading the section of the law that deals with the individual mandate. This section, “Subtitle F – Shared Responsibility For Health Care,” is carefully designed to defeat any constitutional challenge.

The meat of Subtitle F is contained in one sentence (Section 5000A), to wit: “An applicable individual shall for each month beginning after 2013 ensure that the individual, and any dependent of the individual who is an applicable individual, is covered under minimum essential coverage for such month.” This sentence takes up about 20% of one page. Most of the remaining 42.8 pages of Subtitle F creates a protective shell against constitutional challenge. It does this in two ways.

The first protection against a constitutional challenge is the more obvious. In fact, before we ever get to the individual mandate itself, we are treated to five pages that detail the multitude of ways in which “individual responsibility” in healthcare (i.e., the mandate to buy insurance) “is commercial and economic in nature, and substantially affects interstate commerce, as a result of the effects described in paragraph (2).” In other words, the individual mandate is wrapped by a formal “finding of Congress” that this mandate is subject to the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

DrRich is not enough of a legal scholar to understand whether the five pages of justification that follow (the “paragraph 2,” referred to above) are sufficiently compelling to actually invoke the Commerce Clause. To him, it all sounds like an “ends justifies the means” argument, one that would be equally applicable if Congress decided it would benefit the general welfare to mandate that people purchase all their cars from Government Motors. But whether or not the supportive language itself proves compelling to the courts, it seems very unlikely to DrRich that the Supreme Court would overturn a formal “finding of Congress,” as regards the applicability of a provision of Congress to the Commerce Clause.

But this first protection against a constitutional challenge only covers the first five of the 43 pages of Subtitle F. Most of the remaining 38 pages establishes the second protection. This one is more subtle than the first, but, DrRich thinks, it will be the more difficult one to overcome.

That remaining portion of Subtitle F deals largely with the penalties to which individuals would be subject if they failed to comply with the mandate to buy health insurance. It describes in detail how the mandate is to be complied with, how compliance is to be documented, and how the mandate is to be enforced. This long section of Subtitle F reads like tax law, like IRS code. As well it should. For, what it establishes is that the individual mandate is actually a tax, that is treated like any other tax in its documentation, collection, and enforcement, and indeed, that the IRS will be running the whole show.

If DrRich were defending the individual mandate before the Supreme Court, here is what he would say.

“Your Honors (and you other Justices, too), even if you find that the Commerce Clause is not applicable here (a finding, I respectfully submit, which would create a Constitutional crisis, since Congress has issued its own formal finding to the contrary), you must let this provision stand for an even more compelling reason, which is: This is not really an individual mandate to purchase health insurance or any other product, as our opponents claim. It is, in fact, simply a tax, like any other tax.

It is a tax. A healthcare tax. It is a tax to support healthcare in the United States, payable to the U.S. Government on Form 1040, administered and collected entirely by the Internal Revenue Service. It is not in any way fundamentally different from the Medicare and Medicaid taxes, which also support healthcare services for our citizens, which also appear on Form 1040, and which are also administered and collected entirely by the IRS.

Your Honors, simply look at the language of Subtitle F. After a modest amount of palaver to convince Your Honors that the Commerce Clause applies (and, I remind you, it does), the last 38 pages of this Subtitle is tax law. I mean, really, just try to read it. Can any of you understand it? Neither can I. It’s IRS tax code, plain and simple.

The only difference between this tax and any other federal tax is that Congress, in its wisdom and magnanimity, gives the individual citizen the ability to opt out, to not have to pay it, simply by documenting that they have purchased health insurance. That is, if the citizen chooses to buy health insurance – which, we must all admit, would be a wise decision from that individual’s point of view, as well as a benefit to society – the IRS will forgive the new healthcare tax altogether.

Where is the mandate here? Nowhere in Subtitle F does the word “mandate” appear. Rather, Subtitle F refers to “shared responsibility.” Individuals should feel responsible to do their part for society as a whole, and this Subtitle encourages them to act on that responsibility. They can do so by paying the new healthcare tax. Or, if they choose, they can do so by making sure they and their families are covered by health insurance. To be sure, Congress’ intent was that the large majority of citizens would choose the latter. But for all that, it is in the end the individual’s choice.”

As much as DrRich wishes otherwise, the individual mandate in the new healthcare law has been written in such a way as to almost certainly turn aside any challenges based on its constitutionality.

So, ladies, form your ranks and start marching that fat off. Hep-two-three-four.

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