There’s a Constitutional question being raised over at Reason and the WSJ over whether the premiums or fines collected under Obamacare can be collected and disbursed by third parties (in this case, insurance companies). Perhaps more interesting, this same Constitutional objection could also be made against conservative attempts to reform social security with private accounts. From James Taranto’s “Best of the Web Today” in the WSJ:
Under the scheme envisioned by ObamaCare, in which insurers would be obliged to cover all comers, a medical policy would no longer be insurance–that is, a contract to indemnify the policyholder against risk. It would instead be, as Gershengorn describes it, a “financing mechanism” for medical services. As Suderman points out, because participation would be mandatory, the “premium,” and not just the penalty for failure to pay it, would effectively be a tax.
In a famous 2003 video, Barack Obama, then an Illinois state senator, declared, “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health-care program.” That is, Obama wished for a system of outright socialization of health-care costs, in which the government would pay for medical treatment using tax dollars. ObamaCare differs from such a system only in that ostensibly private insurance companies act as the government’s middleman, collecting the taxes and paying the benefits…
There is very little doubt that under existing constitutional doctrine dating to the 1930s, a Canadian-style single-payer system would be constitutional. The government does have the power to tax people directly to pay for federally administered benefits, as it does with Social Security and Medicare. And to judge by his 2003 comments, Canadian-style socialization of health-care finance would have suited Obama just fine.
So why did he and congressional Democrats opt for a complicated, ostensibly private and legally dubious means of accomplishing the same end? Because outright socialism was a bridge too far politically. But ObamaCare’s stealth socialism, in which private companies play the role of tax collector so that individuals are forced to do business with them, may be a bridge too far legally.