Requiring Individuals to Obtain Health Insurance: A Constitutional Analysis

Source: Jennifer Staman, Cynthia Brougher, Edward C. Liu, Erika K. Lunder, Kenneth R. Thomas, Congressional Research Service (CRS), R40725, April 6, 2012

From the summary:
As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), P.L. 111-148, as amended, Congress enacted a “minimum coverage provision,” which compels certain individuals to have a minimum level of health insurance (i.e., an “individual mandate”). Individuals who fail to do so may be subject to a monetary penalty, administered through the tax code. Congress has never compelled individuals to buy health insurance, and there has been significant controversy and debate over whether the requirement is within the scope of Congress’s legislative powers….

…While there is no specific enumerated constitutional power to regulate health care or establish a minimum coverage provision, Congress’s taxing power or its power to regulate interstate commerce may be pertinent….

…In evaluating the minimum coverage provision under the Commerce Clause, one of several issues that may be examined is whether the individual mandate is a regulation of economic activity. Some argue that the requirement to purchase health insurance is economic in nature because it regulates how an individual participates in the health care market, through insurance or otherwise. Conversely, others argue that forcing individuals to participate in commerce in order to regulate them goes beyond the bounds of the clause.

This report analyzes certain constitutional issues raised by requiring individuals to purchase health insurance under Congress’s authority under its taxing power or its power to regulate interstate commerce. It also addresses whether the exceptions to the minimum coverage provision to purchase health insurance satisfy First Amendment freedom of religion protections. Finally, this report discusses some of the more publicized legal challenges to ACA, as well additional issues that are currently before the Court.

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