Advancing a Free Society

ObamaCare's Next Constitutional Challenge

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The constitutional battle over ObamaCare has largely focused on the constitutionality of the individual mandate. Namely, does forcing individuals to buy health insurance violate the commerce clause? But as the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals prepares to hear Florida v. United States, a second issue is of equal importance: Was District Court Judge Roger Vinson correct to rule that the federal government can force states to expand their Medicaid programs as a precondition for continuing to receive matching federal funds for the program?

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, states have a choice: Expand their Medicaid rolls or bear the full cost of caring for their state's current Medicaid population, while continuing to subsidize the Medicaid programs of other states. The constitutional danger of such a scheme has long been recognized. In 1936, the Supreme Court warned in U.S. v. Butler that if conditional federal grants were not restrained, the taxing and spending power "could become the instrument for the total subversion of the governmental powers reserved to the individual states."

And yet the government is comparing this Medicaid requirement to a "voluntary" contract. Does anyone believe that a person is entitled "voluntarily" to continue his journey so long as he pays for all poor people who use the roads? The government's action is plainly coercive because it necessarily conditions the exercise of one right upon the conscious surrender of a second.

Continue reading Richard Epstein's Wall Street Journal op-ed...