Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why the individual mandate is not interstate commerce

David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey explain why the individual mandate does not qualify as interstate commerce. It all goes back to why the mandate was put into Obamacare to begin with.
ObamaCare mandates that every American, with a few narrow exceptions, have a congressionally defined minimum level of health-insurance coverage. Noncompliance brings a substantial monetary penalty. The ultimate purpose of this "individual mandate" is to force young and healthy middle-class workers to subsidize those who need more coverage.

Congress could have achieved this wealth transfer in perfectly constitutional ways. It could simply have imposed new taxes to pay for a national health system. But that would have come with a huge political price tag that neither Congress nor the president was prepared to pay.

Instead, Congress adopted the individual mandate, invoking its power to regulate interstate commerce. The uninsured, it reasoned, still use health services (for which some do not pay) and therefore have an impact on commerce, which Congress can regulate.

Congress's reliance on the Commerce Clause to support the individual mandate was politically expedient but constitutionally deficient. Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce is broad but not limitless.
The Court has ruled that the Commcerce Clause does not provide limitless powers.
Congress can try to achieve universal coverage through regulating the interstate health-care insurance market, as ObamaCare does, by requiring insurance companies operating in that market to cover pre-existing conditions. Then under the Necessary and Proper clause, Congress could also require employers to collect data on pre-existing conditions from new hires so insurers can better plan.

Requiring all Americans to have health insurance may well create a new revenue stream for insurance companies so as to lessen these new burdens on them, but it does nothing to make these new coverage requirements effective regulations of interstate commerce as the Supreme Court uses that term. In particular, the individual mandate does not prevent avoidance or evasion of these new insurance regulations....

Unlike the regulations at issue in Raich, the individual mandate applies regardless of anyone's interaction with a commodity, service or other activity, like the interstate sale or transport of marijuana, that Congress can legitimately regulate. Put another way, the Controlled Substances Act is about the regulation of drugs, not people. It affects individuals only to the extent that they interact with the substances it proscribes, and it can be avoided by simply avoiding those substances.

Americans cannot escape the individual mandate by any means because it regulates them as people, simply because they are alive and here. That requires police power authority. Permitting Congress to exercise that authority—however important its ultimate goal—is not constitutionally proper and would forever warp the federal-state division of authority.
This reasoning has been clear to observers since the bill was passed. Now we'll see if Anthony Kennedy meant what he has previously written on the Commerce Clause.

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