13 December 2010
The commodification of health care and its consequences in the courts
A Virginia judge has ruled that the section of the health-care reform law that requires individuals to purchase a health-insurance plan or suffer penalties is unconstitutional, on the ground that the Constitutional grants the government no power to oblige people to purchase a commodity or punish them for failing to do so. His decision as a whole is being received as a mixed verdict, since Republicans had hoped that he would strike down the entire law. The Obama administration will certainly appeal the ruling, but should expect no different result from the U.S. Supreme Court as currently constituted. The ruling is probably the inevitable consequence of American persistence in treating health care as a commodity. It's probably not what most Americans meant who said that health care was a right. Were it a right, or had the law made it so, there'd be no talk about buying it or being made to buy it. You'd simply go to the hospital and get it, but that would require a more drastic overhaul of the entire health-care sector of the economy than most Democrats dare contemplate, if not a nationalization of the medical profession. If those alternatives sound radical, today's decision throws into question the wisdom of half-measures aimed at enacting a right through commercial transactions. Instead of questioning the judge's ideological credentials or his reading of the Constitution, blame the party in power for writing a bad bill and the system that made them think this was the best option.