On behalf of all the people of the United States, the Department of Justice filed its brief yesterday in the Supreme Court on the ACA. (Health Care Reform or "Obamacare" as some of you call it, eventually to be a compliment rather than the derogatory term you may be intending). Here is a good article from Andrew Cohen of the Atlantic on it with a link to the brief itself which looks really, really, good. For a summary of the opposition briefs that are piling on, you can check it out here or here.
The drafters of the DOJ brief carefully targeted the Justices in an attempt to hold them to previous decisions in the grand tradition of stare decisis or judicial precedent (the basis for the common law and much of our Constitution). And I like the emphasis on the regulation of health care, not merely insurance, as an aspect of Interstate Commerce. And I really like the historical perspective including specific references to Republican developments and proposals over the years like the Heritage Foundation/Gingrich mandates.
Congress’s decision to require insurance in advance, rather than attempting to apply a minimum coverage provision at the point of consumption, was particularly reasonable in light of the economic realities of insurance (which must be obtained before the need to use it arises) and the well-established legal dutyof health care providers to provide emergency care regardless of ability to pay (which makes restrictions at the “point of sale” infeasible as well as inhumane).DOJ Brief, at 20. The argument honestly addresses the very compromise in the mandate that was the only way to get health care reform to the extent we got it. That is, the middle road rather than the extremes of the right (markets-only solution) or the left (universal single payer) whatever your preferential leanings:
. . . the Act closes a gap that has undermined Congress’s longstanding system of regulation and financial incentives in the health care market and that has impeded the ability of millions of Americans to obtain services in that market. The minimum coverage provision is key to the insurance reforms that were designed to fill that gap.DOJ Brief, at 32. This is real smart as a major thrust of the opposition briefs is to argue that the law can't survive the loss of the mandate (Circuit Courts have gone both ways) necessitating that the whole law be thrown out.
In further development to counter the argument that the Act is some onerous imposition on the non-action of people who chose not to buy insurance, the DOJ brief gives this pretty good argument:
Whether or not an individual receives health care services in any specific time period, he or she is always atrisk of needing such services. Those who go without insurance to cover that risk—i.e., who self-insure, but only for those medical expenses they will be able to afford—do not just shift future costs incurred when they later consume health care for which they cannot pay. They also shift present risk to other market participants, which is monetized in the form of higher insurance premiums now, not later, for those with insurance. The point of obtaining insurance is to internalize risk, which occurs when the insurance is obtained and the premium paid. Conversely, the failure to obtain insurance externalizes risk, and that externalization occurs at the time the insurance is not obtained. Moreover, the costs not paid by the uninsured and instead absorbed by others contribute to maintaining the ongoing viability of hospitals and other components of the Nation’s health-care delivery system, which nonetheless will be available to the uninsured when they need them.