University of Southern California

Can Congress Make You Buy Broccoli? And Why It Really Doesn’t Matter

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Postscript (Comment) by David Orentlicher
November, 2010

Critics of the individual mandate to purchase health care insurance make a simple but seemingly compelling argument. If the federal government can require people to buy insurance because that would be good for their health, then the government can require people to buy all sorts of things that are good for their health, like broccoli or membership in an exercise club.

To avoid the prospect of the ultimate nanny state, U.S. district court judges in Florida and Virginia concluded that while the federal government may regulate economic activity, it may not regulate economic inactivity. Thus, once you decide to purchase health care insurance, the government can regulate the terms of your insurance policy. However, you cannot be forced to purchase the policy in the first place. To breach the activity-inactivity line, wrote Judge Roger Vinson, would invite all kinds of well-intended, but liberty-destroying, laws.

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