Much though I applaud the reasoning supporting U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson’s decision to declare parts of the new health care law unconstitutional, I deplore the result. We need a publicly financed general health care system to which all Americans are entitled. What we do not need is government-mandated purchasing of benefits.
Hudson struck down the key provision of the new law calling for individuals to purchase health insurance or face penalties. The Virginia jurist wrote that requirement satisfies neither the letter nor the spirit of the Commerce Clause, that most overused of federal jurisdictional hooks. Neither does requiring that Americans purchase health care fall under the general power to assure the general welfare.
Surely Hudson is right. Giving government the power to tell us what we need to purchase transforms the Welfare State into the Nanny State. A government equipped with too robust of what is necessary for a good and decent life might also enact a dress code, enforceable dietary standards, and even codes about what does and does not comport with orthodox standards of citizenship. I’ve seen what the government can do when its agents grow confident and self-righteous: I don’t want the serpent’s tongue flickering at my doorstep.
But surely health care is too important to be left to the vagaries of the private market. It is a national scandal when tens of millions of Americans cannot get the care they need. Shouldn’t health care be available for all as a matter of right?
I think it should. I think there should be a universal entitlement to health care, and that while this might not rise to the level of a constitutional right, a federal statute expanding something like Medicaid eligibility to all Americans might actually restore a sense of citizenship to a nation adrift.
Almost without exception, Americans are required to pay taxes based on their earnings. We are compelled to contribute to the public fisc whether we like it or not. The government literally takes part of our labor from us and claims it for public purposes. We fight wars with this money. We build roads with this money. We even bailout out the bastards in the banks for are too big to fail. Is it too much to ask that we get something of real and tangible value for these taxes? When a child falls ill, or we lose a job and need medical care, why isn’t there health care available for all?
The health-care reform legislation currently in place is a patchwork disaster. It leaves private insurers in place to manipulate the market and eligibility for the sake of profit. It compels Americans to purchase from these entities. It almost reeks of fascism, this easy wedding of Government and corporate power. The notion that Uncle Sam now compels purchases from private enterprise is a road we do not want to travel: Once the precedent is struck, why not legislation requiring that we purchase only American-made goods, too?
We pay unallocated and general taxes to the federal government and these monies go into the netherworld. Most Americans see no relief for the pressing problems they confront on a daily basis. They lose their homes, and bankers get bailed out. They lose their jobs, and the government threatens to cut off their benefits when the economy does not rebound quickly enough. They lose their health, and there is little or nothing there to help them.
I say there is a legitimacy crisis in the United States. The rhetoric of American life does not match the reality of the lives we live. Increasing numbers of people are checking out, looking for ways to life off the grid and beyond the reach of a Government that seems to govern a parallel universe. When Government takes without giving, or gives only to those with the power to assure that their interests are satisfied, the powerless lose faith. No one is as powerless as a person facing the loss of health.
Judge Hudson’s decision will finds its way quickly to the United States Supreme Court. It is likely to be the most significant federalism decision of the 21st century. How much better it would be for the Government simply to make health care available to all. The Government thinks nothing of helping itself to a share of the fruits of our labor each and every day; it should go without saying that when we fall ill, health care will be available for all. Those who fear what Government will do to the health-care system can opt out and purchase private insurance. The best of us ought not to be beggars, or compelled to purchase from those seeking to profit from our illnesses and death.