Can the Government Make You Buy Insurance?

Politics aside, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson’s order granting summary judgment and declaring the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act unconstitutional and Florida’s decision to halt its implementation highlights an interesting insurance concept: Can the government make people buy insurance?

Judge Vinson supposedly likened the mandate to buy health insurance to trying to make this country’s citizens eat broccoli — obviously something that the first President Bush would have opposed. But doesn’t the government already make us buy insurance, and lots of it?

State governments make us buy auto insurance, and make employers provide workers’ compensation benefits. But are those really the same as making everyone buy health insurance?

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Driving is a privilege, not a right. Individuals must pass a driving test and earn a license (except for those who don’t) before driving. Part of that deal includes carrying insurance to cover damages caused while exercising that privilege.

Likewise, employers are required in the vast majority of states to provide workers’ compensation benefits to their workers by either buying insurance or becoming a qualified self-insurer. In exchange, they are shielded from liability for all but the most egregious negligence in operating their workplaces. In both instances the insurance requirement is part of an exchange for a privilege or protection from other liabilities.

There is no quid pro quo with health insurance. Living is not a privilege (at least not in the U.S.), and health insurance does not touch on the concept of negligence. It is just supposed to pay the bill if we get sick and seek treatment.

The obvious response that counters the judge’s argument is Social Security. Did he simply forget that we all (and our employers) are forced to pay for that, the most massive social insurance system in the country?

Do you think Judge Vinson’s reasoning is valid?

This blog post is meant to provide insights into insurance coverage issues in general, and does not necessarily account for the differences in law and practice in different venues. As such, the opinions expressed within should not be construed as legal advice for the unique circumstances of any particular claim or suit. 
About the Author
Diana B. Reitz, CPCU

Diana B. Reitz, CPCU

Diana Reitz, CPCU, is editorial director for the professional publishing division of The National Underwriter Company, which includes FC&S Online. She may be reached at dreitz@sbmedia.com

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