Sebelius Defends Individual Mandate; Compares Health Insurance to Buying TV’s

January 31, 2011 - 5:09 AM

Kathleen Sebelius

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks to reporters at HHS headquarters in Washington on July 1, 2010. ( Starr)

( Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius defended the new health care law’s mandate requiring people to purchase insurance, comparing the buying of health insurance to buying televisions.

People access health care regardless of whether they have insurance, said Sebelius on Friday. “What they’re choosing not to do is actually pay for those services," she said.

"[I]f I don’t have a 27-inch TV for the Super Bowl, I can’t demand on the day of the Super Bowl that somebody deliver that TV because I have a right to it. On the other hand, if I don’t have insurance, I come through the door of an emergency room and get treated and get cared for, and somebody else picks up the tab,” said Sebelius.

The HHS secretary spoke at the National Academy of Social Insurance’s annual conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. asked Sebelius whether the 27 states suing the federal government were wrong to claim that the insurance mandate is unconstitutional and where, precisely, the Constitution authorizes Congress to mandate the purchase of health insurance.

Sebelius said that while she was not a lawyer, she believed the Commerce Clause gave Congress the authority to mandate people buy health insurance – before she employed the television example.

“I’m not a lawyer, and I’m leaving those arguments to our legal team from the Department of Justice,” said Sebelius. “But I think there are certainly lots of talented constitutional lawyers who feel that the Commerce Clause very much is broad enough to cover the interstate commerce of health care.”

In the Constitution, the Commerce Clause, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3) says Congress shall have the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”

So far, 27 states have sued the federal government arguing that it cannot authorize a mandate requiring individuals to buy health insurance, saying that while Congress can certainly rely on the Commerce Clause to regulate the purchase of insurance – an economic activity – it cannot regulate the non-purchase of insurance – something they say is not an economic activity.