Warren Olney had an excellent discussion on the Affordable Care Act, which goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. One opponent made the common comment that if the legislation stands, it will be the first time in U.S. history that the government has forced people to buy a product they may not want and may not use.
This has never struck me as much of an argument. When I was in the Army, we were supposed to get haircuts every 10 days. In a pinch, I suppose, I could have cut my own, but it always seemed a pretty clear case to me of the government forcing me to buy something I didn’t want. Same with shoe polish: We had to keep shoes and boots shined, and I never learned how to make my own polish. After initial supplies of socks, underwear, shirts, etc., wore out, we also had to buy Army-approved clothing from Army-approved sources.
I guess nobody ever expected the full panoply of constitutional rights to apply to soldiers. We were victims of socialized medicine, after all. And technically I was a volunteer, although not a very willing one. My draft number was 47.
I also recall traveling to Western Montana when I was in college and seeing signs requiring buckets and shovels to drive on certain roads. Of course, nobody forced me to drive on those roads, and nobody who doesn’t want to buy car insurance has to drive a car. And if you never buy or sell a house, then you don’t have to worry about buying stair rails and other devices needed to obtain a government-backed mortgage.
I suppose I would favor some sort of broad exemption from the healthcare mandate for people who never buy homes, serve in the military or drive on public roads. But if they ever get a job, they still have to pay for Social Security and Medicare, whether they want it or not.
All of which, I guess, just goes to say that I don’t understand why the individual mandate is such a big deal. The only reason it makes sense not to have health insurance is either if you are too rich for medical bills to matter or if you are too poor to be able to pay anything. Everybody else pretty much has to have insurance unless they are willing to suffer untreated for any serious maladies they contract, or unless they figure they can force the rest of us to pay their bills. I don’t like either of those alternatives, and I have trouble understanding why anybody does.