Very soon Americans will be forced to buy health insurance. Individuals who fail to buy insurance and companies with over 50 employees that do not provide insurance will be fined. As such, the compulsive power of the state is being used to force people and companies to buy/provide insurance.
While having health insurance is an excellent idea, it can be argued that this should be a matter of choice. One easy way to argue for this is that people should only be compelled when doing so is necessary to prevent harm to others. The fact that something is a good idea or would be beneficial is not adequate justification for the use of compulsion. Obviously enough, I’m following Mill’s arguments about liberty here. In the case of health insurance, a person not having it would not harm others. As such, people should not be compelled to buy insurance. Another way to argue for this is to contend that such a fine violates the right of choice. If it is assumed (or argued) that people have a right to make decisions about their own well being, then having the state compel people to buy insurance would seem to violate that right. Yet another concern is that people are being forced by the state to buy a commercial product. If the state forced people to buy laptops or books, then that would be seen as absurd. After all, what business does the state have in making us buy things from companies?
Of course, it can also be argued that the state should use it compulsive power to force us to buy insurance. In reply to the first argument, it can be argued that a lack of insurance does harm the rest of us. After all, it has been argued that people who are uninsured cost taxpayers a considerable sum of money. If this is true, then the harm done by the uninsured would seem to justify the state using its compulsive force to prevent such harms. This can also be employed against the second argument. After all, an individual’s right to chose generally ends when that choice can harm another. For example, I can chose to drink, but if I chose to drink and drive, then the state has the right to stop me. Likewise, a person can chose to life an unhealthy lifestyle, but they have no right to expect others to pick up the bill for their medical expenses.
In the case of the third argument, it can be pointed out that we are already compelled to buy auto insurance. But, we are not forced to buy from any specific company, so this might be seen as acceptable. Of course, there still seems to be a concern that we are required by law to buy a commercial product. In this case, the arguments for why the private companies are better than the government can be trotted out. After all, if it is acceptable for the state to compel us to buy insurance, then we have to buy it from someone and the choices would seem to be between the state and the private sector. Assuming the private companies are better, then we should buy our insurance from them.
In my own case, I got insurance as soon as I could. After graduate school, I was without health insurance and had to pay all my medical expenses out of pocket. If I had been seriously injured, the medical expenses would have broken me financially. That said, I find the idea of being forced by the state to buy insurance rather annoying and a violation of my liberty. Of course, I also recognize that the general good often requires giving up some liberties. The question is, of course, whether the gain to the general good is worth the cost.