Obama's Health Care Law: Good For Freedom, Bad For Free-Riders

In the health-care market, the only recourse that free-riders leave providers is to withhold their services in what are typically emergency circumstances – the very instances in which we all agree services should not be denied. It is often impossible, in any case, to determine whether individuals who are in severe pain or delirious can pay or not. Current law, in fact, does not permit providers to deny medical services in these circumstances. And beyond these logistical and legal obstacles, most providers are also reluctant to deny care for humanitarian reasons.

Free-riding, in turn, shoves the free-riders’ costs onto others through higher prices. This problem is so substantial that in 2009, Newt Gingrich castigated individuals who didn’t purchase health insurance yet could afford it, calling them free-riders and saying that they ought to be required by law at least to post a bond.
 
An insurance mandate aimed at stopping free-riders is in complete harmony with a free market. Indeed, the mandate is essential for a free market to be able to operate properly, which is why the Heritage Foundation, a fierce advocate of the free market, was among the first to propose mandating the purchase of health insurance as a solution to both the free-rider problem and rising health-care costs.
 
Other markets – like the ones for broccoli or spinach, or the vast majority of markets for other products and services – don’t normally face free-ridership issues at the point of service. Nor does free-ridership result from “inactivity” in these other markets the way it does in the health-care market. These distinctions provide clear grounds for differentiating the mandated purchase of health insurance from the myriad other purchase options individuals have within other markets.
 
Should the Supreme Court rule the insurance mandate to be unconstitutional, the mandate’s opponents will hail its decision as a victory for both freedom and limited government. The opposite will be so.
 
The court, instead, will have ruled for the one-sided autonomy of free-riders and rejected the freedom of providers, taxpayers, and consumers, subjecting them all to what is essentially a form of stealing.
 
Providers will be legally required, not to mention under the influence of professional obligations going back to the Hippocratic Oath, to deliver services to the free-riders without knowing or often even being able to determine whether they will be compensated.
 
To have to work without compensation is a core characteristic of forced labor. The providers then will be forced to finagle third-party consumers and their insurers – innocent bystanders – to pay for the free-riders’ costs by charging them higher prices.
 
If this is a victory for freedom, it will be for a fraudulent anything-goes notion of freedom that is amoral.
 
And if this is a victory for limited government, it will be so only in the false sense of a government rendered so impotent as to be incapable of protecting its own citizens from free-riders.