Monday, December 13, 2010

Court Strikes Down Individual Health Care Mandate

The one highly problematic part of the health care reform package, the individual health care mandate, was struck down by a federal court today.

The individual mandate was struck down for the same reasons that make it problematic. The mandate requires individuals to purchase insurance, at a price not determined by the government, but by private companies. This puts too much public policy power in the hands of businesses. It places burdens on individuals under the guise of regulating businesses.

This court made a relatively cursory review of the law, partly because half a dozen other courts are considering the same question. So far, no court has ruled to uphold the individual mandate, and a court would be hard pressed to do so. The real decision will come in the appellate courts.

Some observers worry that if the courts ultimately strike down the individual mandate, much of the health care law will go with it. That is unlikely. There are problems of financial balance in the health care law without the individual mandate, but these problems are not as severe as the personal problems that the individual mandate would create.

Without an individual mandate, the number of people with health coverage will surely be smaller, but not much smaller. For all the talk of universal coverage, the health care reform was only going to cover about 70 percent of people, and without the individual mandate, that may fall to 65 percent — not a huge difference, nor very different from the way things are now. With the majority of voters wanting some semblance of universal coverage, Congress will have to try again regardless of the way the courts rule.