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Free Ridin’


One of the plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act doesn’t the government has the authority to compel her to purchase health insurance. Rather, she would prefer that the taxpayers pay her medical bills:

Mary Brown, a 56-year-old Florida woman who owned a small auto repair shop but had no health insurance, became the lead plaintiff challenging President Obama’s healthcare law because she was passionate about the issue.

Brown “doesn’t have insurance. She doesn’t want to pay for it. And she doesn’t want the government to tell her she has to have it,” said Karen Harned, a lawyer for the National Federation of Independent Business. Brown is a plaintiff in the federation’s case, which the Supreme Court plans to hear later this month.

But court records reveal that Brown and her husband filed for bankruptcy last fall with $4,500 in unpaid medical bills. Those bills could change Brown from a symbol of proud independence into an example of exactly the problem the healthcare law was intended to address.


Obama administration lawyers argue that the requirement is justified because everyone, sooner or later, needs healthcare. Those who fail to have insurance are at high risk of running up bills they cannot pay, sticking the rest of society with the cost, they argue. Brown’s situation, they say, is a perfect example of exactly that kind of “uncompensated care that will ultimately be paid by others.”

Exactly correct. This is precisely why the argument that the mandate in the ACA represents some kind of unprecedented violation of freedom by “forcing” people to join the health care market would, in a rational universe, be laughed out of court. Nobody in the actually existing health care market can “choose” not to enter the relevant market, because we don’t live in a conververtarian dystopia in which the non-wealthy have to go without emergency medical care. And this is precisely the kind of collective action problem the commerce clause was designed to allow the federal government to address.

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