Last week, the U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued with the U.S. Supreme Court for the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as “ObamaCare.”
Opponents of the bill have argued that the law’s individual mandate is a usurpation of the federal governments powers and a violation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which gives Congress power to regulate commerce among foreign nations and among the states.
Regardless of how the Commerce Clause is interpreted, the individual mandate attempts to solve a problem created by existing health care mandates, and anyone who opposes ObamaCare on those grounds is likely guilty of trying to have it both ways.
Allow me to explain.
The first law to consider is Section 106 of the Internal Revenue Code. This is what allows employees to purchase health insurance with their pre-tax income. While not a mandate per se, this provision compels employees to buy health insurance or else pay taxes on that income.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, on average, 7.6 percent of a private industry worker’s salary goes to health benefits. With an average effective tax rate of 10 to 15 percent, those benefits save taxpayers hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
Legally, this deduction is not considered a mandate or a subsidy, but Section 106 is the economic equivalent of paying people to buy health insurance. Is that different from charging people who don’t buy health insurance?
Economically, the incentives are the same, and defending one but not the other is a textbook example of keeping two sets of books.
The second law to consider is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which was signed into law by Republican President Ronald Reagan and is quite possibly the most widely supported law pertaining to health care.
EMTALA is the law that requires emergency rooms to provide emergency care for anyone demanding it, whether or not they need it and whether or not they can afford to pay or even intend to pay the bill for it.
It is not sensationalist propaganda to say that this law prevents children from dying on the curb of an emergency room because they cannot afford the shot to ameliorate their allergic reactions. If you do not oppose a mandate to provide care (and, for good measure, I have never met anyone who does), how can you oppose a mandate to purchase insurance? That is having it both ways.
The inconsistency in the public’s opposition to ObamaCare illuminates the fine line between principle and politics.
In principle, Americans do not want anyone to die because they can’t afford health care or health insurance. Therefore, people are compelled to buy insurance through our tax code, and emergency rooms are required to provide service to those who cannot afford it.
Because everyone receives care, those who buy insurance already pay for those who don’t. The only way to make insurance cheaper is to take away the care mandate or strengthen the incentive to buy health insurance. ObamaCare takes the morally superior path and strengthens the incentive.
Perhaps there are good arguments for why ObamaCare and the individual mandate are unconstitutional. However, if the Supreme Court votes to repeal it on the grounds that the government cannot mandate the purchase of a product, then there is no constitutional ground that the government can mandate the performance of a service.
Those opposed to ObamaCare often give the “slippery slope” argument that it will lead to government-run health care and quality-of-life valuations, even though the bill expressly prohibits placing a dollar value on a human life.
Let me counter that argument by saying that any repeal of ObamaCare on the grounds of opposition to an individual mandate could, by the same token, lead to an America where hospitals are not required to provide service and poor people die because they can’t afford basic care.
Without some level of socialized health care, America will look no different than much of Africa, where kings patronize expensive American hospitals while their people die in the streets.
Whatever proverbial health care slope we are on, I do not want to slip too far in either direction, and it may be that ObamaCare is precisely the middle ground we want for our country.
David Shaver is a sophomore journalism major from Canyon.