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AS I SEE IT

Posted 4/07/10 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

No one will question the importance of people having health insurance coverage. But simply because the majority of people believe in the importance of health insurance does that mean that the federal government should mandate that everyone buy health insurance?
That is a loaded question. The Democrats in Washington, D.C., who recently passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as part of the overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system believe that mandatory health insurance is a must.
Under the new law, the individual mandate requires nearly every citizen to purchase a qualified health insurance policy or face a penalty enforced through the Internal Revenue Service. By 2016, an adult who does not have health insurance would be penalized $695 per year, and a family up to $2,085, or 2.5 percent of its income, whichever is greater.
Can the federal government make it mandatory for individuals to buy health insurance? Proponents say that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress authority to regulate commerce among the states, gives the federal government authority to require every citizen to purchase health insurance.
While the new law says that may be so, that is not the belief of the attorney generals from 15 states, including North Dakota’s Wayne Stenehjem, who are now part of a federal lawsuit that is challenging the constitutionality of the recently enacted federal healthcare law.
According to Stenehjem, the U.S. Constitution grants enumerated and limited authority to the federal government. It may only act in areas that are specifically permitted. In enacting this legislation, Congress stretches its authority under the commerce clause beyond the limit.
Congress, in passing the individual mandate, has entered into an arena that Congress has never before gone. And in doing so, it has now set into motion a provision by which the federal government dictates that citizens of the country no longer have a choice over whether or not they want to buy goods and services.
In their rush to enact healthcare reform, did Congress overstep its authority and step all over individual rights, as well as the rights of states by forcing them to modify their Medicaid programs to meet the new federal law?
There are many across the country that say Congress did overstep its authority in its zealousness to pass healthcare reform. And obviously there are 15 state attorney generals who believe that it did so with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. And they are going to be asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the act.
And the attorney generals are right to challenge the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
If Congress can use the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to mandate that everyone must buy health insurance coverage or face fines and penalties then what else can Congress decide that Americans must buy whether or not they want to? It is a dangerous concept for many Americans to consider.
Ultimately, it will be the U.S. Supreme Court that now will weigh in on at least one aspect of the new healthcare reform law. And hopefully, it will or at least on one component of it.
Hopefully, the Court will take the view that individual rights and state rights are protected by the U. S. Constitution and that Congress cannot pass any law that usurps those rights.