Forum debates mandated health insurance

Assistant professor of history Rob McGreevey explains the history of the health care debate in the United States. (Tim Lee / Staff Photographer)

By Andrew Miller
Correspondent

A politics forum was held to discuss the constitutional right of the federal government to require citizens to buy health insurance and included a prepared debate between two students for and against such a mandate.

Rob McGreevey, assistant professor of history, opened the Sept. 15 forum in the Library Auditorium with a brief history of the federal government’s involvement in health care since 1930. Abbey Wallach and Rebecca Stefaniak, senior history majors at the College, then debated the constitutionality of a law requiring purchase of health insurance.

According to McGreevey, the earliest form of an attempt at mandated health care was Social Security in 1935, which was originally planned to include a “health care clause.” He added, however, that Congress would not pass such a bill.

Following Social Security, the National Insurance Labor Movement provided free health care to families earning under $2,000. This began the debate over the government’s involvement in health insurance, explained McGreevey.

Wallach and Stefaniak argued for opposing sides of a hypothetical story: A fictitious couple refused to buy the health insurance mandated by the Affordable Healthcare Act of 2010 because they could not afford it.

Wallach argued for the couple, saying that refusing to buy health insurance is simply abstaining from, not violating, interstate commerce.Congress cannot regulate “doing nothing,” she said.

She also pointed to the burden this bill proposes to the middle class and then posed the following question: If the government makes its populace buy health insurance “to better society,” what is to stop the government from mandating that people buy houses to “improve the economy?”

Stefaniak spoke on behalf of the government in support of the Affordable Healthcare Act. Her argument hinged on Congress’s right to do what is “necessary and proper” for the good of the country. She stressed that the government wants above all to “protect its citizens by giving them health insurance.”

McGreevey noted that many Americans have been historically mistrustful of government-mandated health insurance. When the Cold War began, any mention of federal infringement on citizens’ rights was termed a “Bolshevik bureaucracy.”

Private business-based health insurance was a compromise, because the federal government did not control health care, and citizens were provided with health insurance, he said. However, the unemployed and retired were not covered. This did not change until the 1950s, with Medicaid’s creation.

He also discussed the Commerce Clause, which gave Congress the right “to regulate commerce …among the several states.”

“I had heard some of the arguments before, but some of them, I never would have thought of,” said Dan Mundy, junior English major.