Health-Care Law May Mean Other Buying Mandates, Clement Says

A Supreme Court decision upholding President Barack Obama’s health-care law, which compels people to buy medical insurance, would give Congress the power to make Americans purchase any other product, said lawyers challenging the measure.

“The next time, it’ll be cars,” said Paul Clement, a Washington lawyer who represents 26 states that have appealed to the high court. “Some people don’t buy cars. They walk.”

At a debate in Washington today, sponsored by Bloomberg Law and Scotusblog, Clement and a second attorney challenging the law clashed with supporters over the reach of Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce.

The health-care fight may produce one of Supreme Court’s most important rulings on the balance of power between the federal government and the states. The court will hear 5 1/2 hours of argument over three days in late March -- the longest in decades -- and its ruling may affect this year’s presidential election. The court probably will rule in late June.

The central issue is whether Congress can require individuals to buy insurance or pay a penalty. Neal Katyal, a former Obama administration lawyer, said the provision was a legitimate step to prevent people who lack insurance from receiving health care and then leaving the bill to others.

“What Congress is reacting to is not the failure to buy,” Katyal said. “It’s the failure to pay for it.”

‘Unprecedented’ Law

The Obama administration says the individual mandate will keep policy premiums in check by giving insurers millions of new, low-cost customers. Otherwise, prices would soar because of new requirements that insurers accept applicants with preexisting conditions and charge them the same rates as other policyholders, the government says.

“What Congress did here really is unprecedented,” Clement said later on Bloomberg Television’s “Conversations with Judy Woodruff.” “Whether it’s medical care or something else, Congress has never before forced somebody to engage in a commercial transaction in the name of trying to regulate the resulting transactions.”

The law would expand coverage to an estimated 32 million Americans who lack insurance, largely through an expansion of the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor and by setting up “exchanges,” where consumers will be able to buy insurance.

The cases are National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 11-393; Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, 11-398; and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, 11-400.

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