The Supreme Court, The Individual Mandate, And Eating Your Broccoli

One of the major arguments against the individual health insurance mandate in the federal health overhaul is this: If Congress can force most Americans to buy health insurance, can’t it also require people to buy broccoli?

It’s a question a senior Obama administration official faced Friday in a briefing with reporters an hour before the Justice Department filed its first briefs with the Supreme Court for the Florida vs. HHS case.

His answer: “That is a hypothetical. It is wildly unrealistic.” The official said it is not fair to compare broccoli consumption to health care, because the United States is facing a “crisis” of rising health insurance costs and more than 50 million people lacking any coverage.

The official, who would not allow his name to be used, said Congress already requires Americans to buy certain things. “If you buy a car you have to buy the seat belts, too,” he said.

When the individual mandate takes effect in 2014, anyone who fails to buy health insurance will face a financial penalty.

The Supreme Court has said that in hearing the Florida case, it will review whether or not the 1867 “Anti-Injunction Act” requires deferring any challenge to the individual mandate until after that provision of the health law is implemented.  The official said the administration does not want the court to delay a ruling on the mandate. “This issue needs to be resolved now in order to alleviate uncertainty and to let us proceed without any concerns to implementation.”

The plaintiffs in the case also filed a brief Friday.

The Supreme Court has scheduled three consecutive days of hearings on the health law to begin March 26. A ruling is expected by late June.