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Health Care and the Supreme Court: Is it unconstitutional to require individuals to buy health insurance?

Update, June 2012: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Obama's health care law by a 5-4 vote. The majority said that the law's individual mandate  -- a requirement that most Americans get insurance or pay a penalty -- was allowed by Congress' power to levy taxes.

March 26, 2012

By John Vettese, Student Voices staff writer

During the presidential primary season, you’ve probably heard the term “Obamacare” thrown around a lot.

That’s how those who oppose the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – the health care law signed by President Obama in 2010 – refer to it. Debate over the law was heated and polarized long before it got the president’s signature. And this week, the Supreme Court began three days of oral arguments to determine whether the law is constitutional.

This is a major undertaking for the court; it’s uncommon have three days of oral arguments on a case. It’s also significant that the case is being heard during a presidential election year. Since the health care law was a signature achievement of Obama’s presidency, a ruling in favor of it could strengthen his reelection chances in November – just as a ruling against it could make him go into election season weakened.

Among its many provisions, the law requires that all citizens have health insurance beginning in 2014. It also says insurance companies cannot deny coverage based on “preexisting conditions” – a medical issue that you knew you had when you applied for insurance – nor can companies charge higher premiums for those with health problems. It allows those who do not have access to affordable coverage through their jobs to buy insurance with the help of government subsidies. If people do not, they will be penalized – with fines beginning at $95.

On the one hand, opponents argue that the government has no right to force citizens to purchase something. Commentators have called this “the broccoli question” – if Congress is allowed to pass a law requiring you to buy health insurance, what’s to stop it from passing a law requiring you to buy, say, broccoli? Or whatever they felt like making you buy? The counterargument is that the health care law falls under the limits of what Congress can regulate because everybody uses it – and is something that, if an individual doesn’t pay for it, everybody else has to through tax dollars.

On the other hand, supporters of the health care law say it is constitutional because Article I, Section 8, in the Constitution, known as the Commerce Clause, gives Congress the power to regulate business across state lines and the law is necessary to expand access to health care. However, the 26 states that sued to block the health care law say that by making individuals buy health insurance, Congress has overstepped its bounds.

There are a few possible outcomes after the justices hear the arguments. The justices could uphold the entire health care law. They could overturn the entire law. They could simply overturn only the individual mandate to buy health insurance – and leave other components of the law intact. Or, the court could decide not to issue a ruling. One of the questions before the court is whether the fine for not buying insurance is a tax. If the court decides it is a tax, the justices would be able to delay ruling until the individual mandate kicks in in 2014 because of a law saying Americans have to pay a tax before they can challenge it in court.

Experts believe that won’t happen, however, since so many people – from politicians to health care providers – want an answer now.

What do you think?

Is it unconstitutional for the government to require health insurance? Should the government be allowed to regulate it? If you were on the Supreme Court, how would you rule? Join the discussion!
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Cin. Ohio
Cincinnati State
Yes, it is unconstitutional to penalize an individual for not partaking in an insurance system... The federal government should certainly NOT AND CANT be able to run a federal healthcare system ........ This is bullshit as everything they get involved in raises cost. Prices for healthcare would be half of what it is if insurance was not involved requiring extensive forms and paperwork. Next it cost 100.00 because you didn't get braces and your teeth are not straight. WHY DO THEY HAVE THE RIGHT

Chapel Hill 7th/8th Grade Center
I think it is unconstitutional to force an individual to buy health insurance especially if they can not afford it. The constitution was created to keep our government from getting too much control over, but by forcing people to buy health care AND to penalize them if they don't get it, is making our country go down the hill faster and faster and is making this country turn into a communism.

Port Charlotte FL
I think it is unconstitutionally wrong to make people buy health care. It is not affordable as the name states. The prices have sky rocketed out of control. I for one think that people should get a petition started to get this law repelled. I can speak for my family that if we get insurance, it will take almost 1/4 of our annual income. Absolutely ridiculous. This is America, and we should not be told what we "have " to buy.

I think its unconstitutional, and to compare car insurance to it, ok so say I sell my car and stop driving I no longer require insurance, so to make something mandatory and not optional like car insurance is in my opinion Illegal.

Southborough, ma
Yes, it is unconstitutional to penalize an individual for not partaking in an insurance system... The federal government should certainly be able to run a federal healthcare system aimed at lowering costs across the board, however the success of this system cannot be artificially stimulated via threat of fine... I believe that particular providers are and will be favored by the ACA which reeks of corporate fascism to the highest of levels. While I have no personal evidence to substantiate these claims, it is no secret that banks (the fed) and special interest groups are negatively effecting our political system. I feel that the ACA would simply open more avenues for our freedoms to be attacked and within the current political playground, cause more harm than good.

Our govenor here has opted out of the medicaid exstention to help the unemployed get health insurance. What are the unemployed suppose to do? The unemployed in NC cannot get health insurance simply because they can't afford it........ with that being said how can the government force you to get health insurance. NC is looking at some serious law suits when people ther start getting penalized

I don't think a requiring person to have health insurance is unconstitutional. If it was then the same must be said about car insurance. Is that unconstitutional too? The government should be allowed to regulate it because it is a social service for public.

Unconstitutional? Maybe, not sure. It's terrible that the government can force you to buy something by "taxing" you if you don't. People pay for roads they don't use, but no one forces them to get a car and drive on the roads.

Porterville, CA
I think it is unconstitutional for the government to require its people to buy something they might not want whether it is a type of insurance or something else. They should be able to regulate it but not force people to buy it. If I were in the supreme court I would have probably ruled it as unconstitutional. I would probably change it so that insurance companies cannot deny coverage based on preexisting conditions.

it is very unconstitutional to repquir individuals to buy health insuranc. They dont have the right to control with what we do with our money. Though havent they noticed that most families arent wealthy and are struggling as it is. It would also mean that all they health insurance would have to approve everyone. Making more work for them. THus, i would rule it as unfair and aunlawful.

I don't think buying healthcare is unconstitutional. Healthcare, like many things, isn't only a service, it's a business. Money is required to make things run smoothly (like public services). If we are not needed to pay for health fines, then healthcare can deteriorate in performance, due to lack of many. Making costs more affordable however, can be beneficial since many families are indeed in need of healthcare.

I don't see this requirement to be unconstitutional, but I do believe that forcing us to buy healthcare insurance is going a bit overboard. Healthcare is something good to have, it will be beneficial in the long run, but many can't afford it. Some lower income families just don't have healthcare because it's too expensive. But this isn't something pointless like broccoli, it's something important, important to the president and it should be important to the citizens as well. It's an important idea/subject but it can't also be very problematic for some people.

Marvin Garduno
Ms. Bradley/Nimitz High School
This issue seems to be kind of tricky...which is why i'm not studying to be a congressman or considering to study any position in government. Too much stress and not enough fun. But anyways, Congress is Congress. They know what's good for us if it means some people must suffer. I know health care would just be another bill we must pay, and heck they might even increase taxes (which i'm not too fond off) but congress has saved us before. Sure we don't like what the presidents have done, but it always seems to work out in the end after 20-30 years. What president Obama is doing here, is a long term goal. He has a vision and wishes to pursue it. I'm sure he studied this topic and realized what Article I, Section 8 states, so that's probably why he decided to make everyone buy healthcare. Plus it's legal. But then again it's the government controlling the people...which is why it's tricky. If anything they should set up healthcare shops all over the U.S and have people walk in and purchases which ever health care best suits them. It could sort of be the next Dunkin Donuts of America if you think about it. It'll grow in popularity and slowly but surely every american will have it.

Irving, TX
Jocelyn P
Although I do not think that it's unconstitutional, I do not think that the government should be forcing us to buy things. Some people may not afford it, and if they can't afford it they obviously won't be able to afford the fees. I honestly don't know how to rule. On one hand health care is a very important necessity that can help out in a lot, but on the other hand why would you fee someone for not getting something when they can't afford it in the first place.

Mr. Sorensen
Yes it is. Not every one wants it. Many people may have things they feel their money is better spent on, like food. Other people won't be able to afford it, and then there are those that will abuse it. So those people who do actually pay for it and work honestly to do so will be forced to unfairly carry the burden of every one else. Besides It may aslo be against some religions, to have tranplanted organs, or transfused blood, or to sustain their life with machines. Many people may feel that is a violation of what ever great forces caused them to be in a situation that requires such measures, so they may be violating their religion too, now we just can't ask people to do that.

pomerene, AZ
mr. sorenson
I think that health care should be important because people get sick almost everyday

i dont think that anyone should be pressured to do anything and that they law will be good with no fines

benson az
I dont think that the government should force anyone to do anything. But I do think that it is a good idea for society to get heath care, they shouldn't have to pay a fine though if they don't get it. It's their fault if they aren't covered when they need it.

Benson, AZ
Sorenson/ Benson High School
I don't think the government shouldn't force anything. I think the law is a good idea without the fine if health insurance is not purchased. The fine is what is making the argument more complex. Without the fine into account the only argument is whether it is constitutional or not. I think the government does have this right as stated by the Constitution.

Belleville/New York
Miss.Colby/Belleville Henderson
Yes, healthcare is important to have but it shouldnt be forced upon citizens. If they dont wanna pay for insurance and would rather pay the huge fees the doctors give you everytime you visit them, thats no one elses fault but their own.

Ryan M.
Mr. Sowernson/Benson
This has been a really big issue as you can see. In my opinion yes, healthcare is important, but not to the point that your being forced to pay for it. People such as smokers, drug users etc just depend on others tax dollars helping no one but themselves.

Benson Az
Sorenson/ benson
Healthcare is important to have bit yet it should be your choice not the governments. If you don't want your family to have a good life then that your fault and the government should my have a part in that.

Benson, Arizona
I believe that health care is super important to have but no one should force someone to have it. It should be your own choice what you have or dont have so cool story!

benson unified high school benson/az
jonathan sooter
marv sorenson
how i look at it is that it's a good plan but goverment shouldn't force people to get health insurece and punish people becuse they don't get it it should be our choice to have it not the goverments.

Benson Arizona
1. If everyone was required to purchase healthcare then the cost of healthcare alone would be much less and more convenient. 2. Look at Canada, they have a health care policy just like what Obama's trying to pass. Canada's doing amazing! 3. Around 27% of homelessness in America is because of lack to afford shelter because of medical bills. And the governments all pissed about how homes are going in for foreclosure and theres so many houses that need to be sold but aren't. That's because so many ill people are one medical bill away from losing their homes. Either pay for cancer treatment or your next dose of medicine for your diabetes or pay your mortgage? People are going to chose survival not shelter. 4. No people should not be "forced" into something otherwise they will be fined but look at all of our laws in America. We can get audited for misfiling taxes. We have to pay almost $4 for gas! Everything else is just as outrageous. 5. Does everyone want to get ill? Health care is there for a reason. If a tragic accident happens then someone needs to be rushed to the hospital, if they have health insurance they will actually be compensated on their way out of the hospital, like in Canada. And if those who are sick did not get the proper treatment their would be many epidemics. In the long run health care is much less expensive then paying a doctor or a hospital bill.. We should also make marijuana legal like in Canada!

Mr. Sorenson
I dont think that it is unconstitutional because those who dont have it either way rely on the government to pay for their healthcare, and those who do have Obamacare dont have to worry about it that much.

Mr. Sorenson
I dont think that it is unconstitutional because those who dont have it either way rely on the government to pay for their healthcare, and those who do have Obamacare dont have to worry about it that much.

No it isnt unconstitutional to require individual people to be able to buy health insurance, everyone should have the right to buy their health insurance if thats what they want to do. If they cannot pay for their health insurance, then they should help those who need it.

Benson / AZ
Soreson / Benson High School
In history,the Government has tried to make people pay for some that isn't nessary such as the boston tea party. the government shouldn't make people for the health care because it will be another boston tea party!

Beson AZ
Ashley Cope
Marv Sorenson, Benson Union high School
Health insurance is a service that most American use. It's important that people have health care. However I don't believe it's right for the government to force people to buy it and get fined if they don't purchase it.

Sorenson, Benson high school
This whole helath care thing is dumb. I lost my health care becaus i am technically not old enough to have my own policy and the insurance company owes me $800

well, i have a simple fact do you want to be made to pay something...No! Boston tea Party ring any bells. lets throw health care in the harbor.

benson AZ
Jonathan martens
Mr. Sorensn benson high
Well health insurance is something all americans need, and if many americans dont have the money to afford the cost of health insurance, government funds should cover that. Or maybe if the Middle class was taxed a little bit more, that money could be used to pay for people who dont have insurance. So i dont think its right to make americans pay for health insurance when they cant afford it. Rather, make the wealthy pay more taxes to support these issues. On the other hand, i do agree that its not right to make those who can afford health insurance to also pay more through taxes. So i dont disagree with this being unconstitutional because congress does have the right to regulate laws but, i do think its fair that the government should help their citizens, through tax funds.

Benson, AZ
Mr. Sorenson
I don't believe that people should be fined for not buying health insurance. They make an argument that if people don't buy it for themselves, tax dollars will, but then wouldn't we have free riders? And also, where does it say in the constitution that the government can force people to make a purchase? I think the government has the right to regulate health care but no right to regulate whether or not people buy insurance, because what if people are fine without it? Most people don't buy health insurance because they can't afford it, and now they will fine you if you don't buy it? If I were on the supreme court I would not let this law take effect.

soreson/benson high school
i think that he shouldn't control it cause i think tha it is chose of the people.

Benson, Arizona
Mr. Sorensen
Yes, I don't think the government should have to make you get health insurance. It should be your own decision, and fault whether you want it or not. But to make someone have it is wrong. Not only that but not everyone can afford it.

dakota w
I think he should not control it because it does not help us and give us health care.

Benson/ Arizona
Mr. Sorenson
I believe that Obamacare is a good idea i would support it and as so many other people. there are always going to be people who dont support and people who do. i think things should just stay the way they are if people want to buy health insurance they can if they dont then that is their problem it will only hurt them.

Irving, TX
I believe government funding to help provide all Americans with healthcare or at least the opportunity to get healthcare is a noble cause. However, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is convoluted enough for the federal government, by way of the Supreme Court, to call it quits on this venture. People who believe in this law's constitutionality make the case that Congress can regulate healthcare because it's a service everyone in the country uses, so when someone doesn't pay for it, tax dollars will. I don't see how that view meshes with the fines incurred when people don't buy health insurance. Fining people for not buying health insurance should not be legal.

Irving/ Texas
I believe that health insurance is a very vital asset that all Americans need. On the other hand, I don't think it is right for the government to make everyone buy insurance if they don't have the money to spend on health insurance. I do however agree that it's wrong for those that do pay for health insurance to have to pay for others health through taxes. It's not fair for those that are responsible to have to pay extra when they already have health insurance. On that note, I don't think the government requiring health insurance is unconstitutional because the Congress does have the right to “regulate business”. With all of the differing opinions, I think it would be wise to have each state decide whether their citizens must be required to pay for health insurance. Although with more than half the states ruling the law is unconstitutional, I doubt many would require the law in their states. Or, the other alternative would be to amend the law to fit most peoples preferences. If I was in the Supreme Court I would rule that requiring health insurance should be law, not only for Americans who need it, but also for those who could be harmed by those who don't have health insurance.

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