Shorter Steve Benen

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 7, 2009

“If you don’t buy a health insurance policy under the individual mandate demands of the House Democratic health care reform bill, you will go to jail.”

Which is precisely what the press release from Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee says.

Benen tries to disguise and paper over the problems associated with this approach by telling us that an individual mandate “is not exactly scandalous” by likening the individual mandate to taxes. Here’s the difference: Everyone understands that the federal government needs to collect revenue, and that as a consequence, taxes will be imposed. If you don’t pay your taxes, you are cheating the federal government of revenue. Naturally, there ought to be penalties associated with that kind of behavior.

At the end of the day, however, if you decide not to purchase health insurance, you are putting yourself at risk. Yes, if an uninsured individual is treated in an emergency room, society pays somewhat, but society doesn’t pay nearly as much as does that individual when he/she gets a bill for tens–or even hundreds–of thousands of dollars as a cost of health care, and has to max out credit cards/sell the house/go into bankruptcy as a consequence.

Obviously, because of the risks associated with not having health insurance, I think that it is dumb for anyone who can get it to refuse to do so. But part and parcel of living in a free society is having the freedom to be stupid. Democrats want to criminalize a policy choice on the part of Americans by forcing them to pay a fine, and/or go to prison if they don’t purchase health insurance. But it is silly to criminalize a personal choice that puts no one at risk nearly as much as does the individual person making the choice.

Put another way, it’s a strange world Steve Benen endorses: Fail to buy health insurance, go to jail and pay a fine. Fail to pay taxes, get a job in the Obama Administration.

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