Newsmax is reporting that a new poll shows 91 percent of Americans oppose the individual mandate* in the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) that requires that everyone buy health insurance. This isn't surprising given that this mandate goes further than government has ever gone before and unconstitutionally requires the purchase of a good in the private sector as a condition for lawful residence in the U.S.
The mandate has, at various times, been embraced by conservatives and liberals. But now, it seems people of both persuasions are waking up to its damaging effect on individual rights. Only the most crazed advocates of the Nanny State (I'm talking to you, remaining 9 percent) would favor something so obviously intrusive. So why was it enacted?
Well, I've got bad news for people who dislike the mandate but still favor the Affordable Care Act. This mandate, both from a functional perspective and a spiritual perspective, is at the heart of the law. That's why it was enacted.
The law doesn't function without it. The insurance industry regulations in the law – yes, the most popular "consumer protections" – simply won't work without the mandate. If anyone is allowed to buy health insurance any time (even if they are already very sick with a "preexisting condition"), then people will behave opportunistically, not carrying health insurance when they are healthy and buying it only when sickness sets in. This causes adverse selection, drives up the cost of health insurance, and ultimately bankrupts the health insurance industry.
And also important: One of the goals of the Affordable Care Act was increased insurance coverage. In fact, advocates of health reform wanted to get as close to universal coverage as possible. To do this, they simply must tell unwilling Americans to buy something they don't want and may not use. This is what happens when big government decides what the nation's goals are, and decides those goals are more important than the right of individuals to make choices on their own. Without the mandate, the ACA doesn't come as close to universal coverage (which by the way, isn't as noble a goal as you might think: Just because people have health insurance doesn't mean they have access to health care.)
We've got a serious problem in our country, and it has to do with sound byte politics. Voters hear from one side, "This law will give Americans more free stuff." Or, "This law will protect Americans by enforcing more rules." Unfortunately, it takes more than a few seconds to describe what the likely unintended consequences of government actions are. That's why it's much easier for liberals to promise "free" stuff than it is for conservatives to explain how, exactly, all the "free" stuff will be paid for.
The same is at work in health policy and the fight over the individual mandate. We'll all pay the consequence for this mandate: If not in dollars, then in freedom. When government meddles, there's always fallout.
Affordable Care Act advocates simply say, "We're making people make a good decision." But Americans aren't buying it, probably because of the firestorm over the mandate's Constitutionality. Then ACA advocates say, "The mandate is just a necessary evil."
The follow-up question then, is, "What has created the necessity for the mandate?" The answer is government intervention in places it doesn't belong – rigging the insurance market to the point it no longer operates like insurance. The regulations in ObamaCare will make buying insurance so unattractive (expensive), that a statute will be necessary to force us into it. If you're concerned about people with preexisting conditions, remember this problem has been wildly overstated and there are other solutions to that particular problem – solutions that don't involve shredding the Constitution.
The task facing conservatives now is to convert this 91 percent of people who disapprove of the mandate into full-fledged repeal fighters. If they'll hear us out above all the sound bytes, we'll be successful.
*Update: The Harris Interactive Web site says 19 percent of people support the individual mandate, a departure from Newsmax's report. Even so, many more people support the Affordable Care Act and provisions like the ban on denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions than support the mandate. No one should support one and oppose the other, but should realize they cannot function separately.