Judge: Health Insurance Mandate "Unconstitutional"

By: Kathy Kristof, CBS Moneywatch
By: Kathy Kristof, CBS Moneywatch

VIRGINIA -- A federal judge in Virginia ruled that forcing Americans to buy health insurance is unconstitutional, dealing a body blow to President Obama’s health reform legislation.

While District Judge Henry E. Hudson’s ruling that the individual mandate to buy coverage “exceeds the constitutional boundaries of Congressional power,” he did not stop implementation of the law. The final ruling will go to a higher court, so the law’s implementation can continue while the case makes its way through the court system.

If the ruling were to stand, the nation would have a toothless health reform law. It would demand that insurers take all comers –regardless of health and without charging sick people more — but only “suggest” that you buy insurance. With that sort of scenario, the only people who would have coverage would be the sick and the stupid. After all, if you can buy health insurance the day after you were diagnosed with cancer, why would you waste the money on premiums before that?

The cost of premiums would also likely soar because of the diminishing chance that you’d buy health coverage before you desperately needed it. That would price out anyone who was healthy, even if they wanted to maintain coverage.

But there’s an easy fix that’s completely constitutional: Once health insurance is available to everyone with no exclusions for pre-existing conditions — that’s 2014 under health reform — create a consequences clause. What’s that? If you don’t buy health insurance by 2014 — or when you first become eligible — you no longer have a guarantee of coverage. Additionally, once everyone has the ability to buy coverage, they should do away with the current law that demands that hospitals treat anyone who comes into an emergency room, without regard to whether or not the person has insurance or the ability to pay.

In other words, you don’t have to buy health insurance if you don’t want to. But be prepared for the consequences if you don’t.

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