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Obama administration defends individual health insurance mandate

In a filing Jan. 6 with the U.S. Supreme Court, the Obama administration defended the mandate in the federal health care reform law that requires most individuals to obtain health insurance.

Obama administration attorneys wrote, in part, that without the mandate, “insurers deny coverage or charge higher rates for individuals with conditions as common as high blood pressure, asthma, ear infections, and even pregnancy.’’

Opponents of the health care law, including 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business, filed a brief in September 2011 challenging the constitutionality of the law. The law contains the controversial mandate that most Americans must buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a fine.

They wrote that the mandate exceeds Congress’ authority because, in part, it “forces healthy and voluntarily uninsured individuals to purchase insurance from private insurers and pay premiums now in order to subsidize the costs of covering unhealthy individuals.”

On March 26-28, the Supreme Court will hear 5½ hours of arguments in the challenge to the federal health care reform law. The court is not expected to issue a ruling until June, five months before the November presidential election.

"The individual mandate is the centerpiece of the entire federal health care act," Attorney General Pam Bondi of Florida, whose state is participating in the legal challenge, told Reuters. "If the court removes the individual mandate, the main hub of the act, the entire health care law must be invalidated."

The federal health care reform law would provide insurance to an additional 32 million adults by 2016, and only 5 percent of the population would remain uninsured by 2021, according to testimony by Congressional Budget Office chief Douglas Elmendorf. By then, consumers would be able to buy their own coverage through insurance exchanges administered by each of the states, or through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

One of the arguments opponents make about the federal health care law is that if Congress can force you to buy health insurance, can’t it also require you to buy broccoli? A senior Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that the broccoli comparison was unfair.

“There are lots of other mandates the federal government has imposed over the years,” the senior administration official said in a Jan. 6 conference call. “From having to answer the census, to having to turn in your gold coinage in 1934, the draft. ... If you buy a car, it has to have seat belts in it.

"To eat or buy broccoli, it's just not the same. It doesn't involve the same economic conduct."

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