The Hill’s Jason Millman points out that “House Republicans, including Tea Party favorites Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Ron Paul (Texas)” have filed an amicus brief urging the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn U.S. District Court Judge George Steeh’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision in the Affordable Care Act. In October, Steeh was the first of two federal judges “to rule that the Constitution’s Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to require individuals to purchase health insurance.” The lawmakers’ brief claims that if the federal government can force Americans to purchase health insurance coverage, it “would have the power to force citizens to engage in any activity that might conceivably affect commerce in some way” — including seeing the new Harry Potter movie:
The same logic can be used to justify virtually any other mandate Congress might care to impose—even a mandate requiring everyone to see the most recent Harry Potter movie. After all, just about everyone participates in the market for entertainment. Choosing not to go to the movies is just “an economic decision to try to pay for [other entertainment] services later.” Id. Health insurance is undoubtedly an important good. But it has no unique characteristics that transform failure to purchase it into an “economic activity.”
The difference, of course, is quote stark. We don’t have to see movies in the same way that we need access to quality health care. Not seeing Potter won’t kill you, skipping a doctor’s visit might. Entertainment costs also don’t create any kind of cost-shift and are not something we finance through insurance because movies are a predictable expense that are paid for in relatively small installments.
Health care costs, on the other hand, come at you out of the blue and can be enormous. While a young person may choose to forgo coverage in their 20s, eventually she or he will become sick and will need medical attention. Without the mandate, that individual will either be denied coverage because she or he is too sick (remember, if you lose the mandate, the insurance regulations go with it ) or they’ll be priced out of the market. A recent national survey estimated that 12.6 million adults — or 36 percent of those who applied for coverage in the individual market — were denied insurance “because of a pre-existing condition in the previous three years.” Left uninsured, those 12 million Americans will skip critical doctor visits or avoid treatment, allowing a small medical problem to become a chronic medical condition in need of medical attention. If she or he doesn’t have health insurance, the costs of care are shifted throughout the system – picked up by the government and private premium payers.