Requiring Individual to Obtain Health Insurance: A Constitutional Analysis [November 15, 2011]   [open pdf - 416KB]

"As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), P.L. 111-148, as amended, Congress enacted a 'minimum essential coverage requirement,' a provision compelling 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. Although the federal government provides health coverage for individuals through federal programs such as Medicare, it had never before required individuals to purchase health insurance. This report analyzes certain constitutional issues raised by compelling individuals to purchase health insurance. It addresses the authority of Congress to pass a law of this nature under its taxing power or its power to regulate interstate commerce. With regard to the taxing power, the requirement to purchase health insurance might be construed as a tax and upheld so long as it was found to comply with the constitutional restrictions imposed on direct and indirect taxes. […] On August 12, 2011, the Eleventh Circuit held that the minimum essential coverage requirement is unconstitutional. Conversely, the Sixth Circuit in 'Thomas More Law Center v. Obama' upheld the minimum essential coverage requirement as a constitutional exercise of the Commerce Clause. Other courts, such as the Fourth Circuit in 'Virginia v. Sebelius and Liberty University v. Geithner', dismissed these challenges, not based on the merits of the case, but for procedural reasons. Several petitions for Supreme Court review were filed, and on November 14, 2011, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal in the Florida case. Oral arguments in this case are expected to take place in March 2012."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, R40725
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