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{Publsihed in the Colorado Springs Gazette, November 11, 2009}

The House of Representatives has passed a bill which, if it became law tomorrow, would require every American to purchase a certain product in order to remain a legal resident of the United States. In light of this assault on our liberty by a democratically elected government, I have to ask: Does America still deserve to be called the land of the free?

HR 3962, the House’s version of health care reform, requires Americans to purchase health insurance. And not just any health insurance, but health insurance that meets some very specific requirements dictated by the federal government. It is an unprecedented assertion of government power, naturally in the name of the common good.

Proponents argue the existence of uninsured patients jeopardizes the entire system. They are wrong. According to the Urban Institute, uncompensated care represented about 2.2 percent of all health care spending in 2008. Even the Congressional Budget Office says that “uncompensated care is less significant than many people assume.” Massachusetts has mandatory purchase, and it’s been a disaster. Why are flimsy justifications and ignoring relevant experience enough to justify forcing every adult American to buy a government-approved insurance policy?

More importantly, mandatory purchase of anything is wrong on principle. Americans ought not to be sent to jail for refusing to buy something.

Political philosophers have identified three different uses of the word “freedom” when applied to a country’s citizens. The first is freedom from rule by an external occupying power. Thankfully, America has been free in this sense since the Revolutionary War. As Veterans Day reminds us, our armed forces have kept her so.

The second sense is freedom from tyranny within, like Germany in the 1930s or pre-glasnost Russia. Our democratic and civic institutions have kept us free in this sense as well.

The third sense is the most fragile, and to my mind the most precious. A country’s citizens are free when their individual rights are secure. This happens when they can perform the peaceable activities they wish, without worry or hindrance from others. Even if the others are in the majority. It is this sense of the word “free” that we mean when we say things like free speech, free love, free enterprise, freedom of contract, free thought, freedom of religion and free markets. This kind of freedom is protected by constitutional law and the courts, but the ultimate responsibility for it lies in the hearts and minds of the people themselves. It is this kind of freedom that I worry is slipping away.

HR 3962 is a case in point. Since this bill came out of a Democratic administration, it’s pretty clear that Democrats no longer care much about this kind of freedom. The modern Democratic Party has become so obsessed with redistributing wealth and running people’s lives that personal freedom issues don’t mean anything any more. Those of us with the temerity to object to their machinations are dismissed as right-wing whackos and tea-party crazies.

Lest I be accused of being a cheerleader for corporate America, let me point out that the health insurance industry loves mandatory purchase. What business wouldn’t want the opportunity to make people buy what it has to sell? It saves them the trouble of having to actually compete.

Plenty of Republicans, sadly, think that’s just fine. After all, the entire Massachusetts mandatory purchase debacle was made possible by Mitt Romney.

The insurance lobby had a field day there, making sure that consumers had to purchase coverage for hormone replacement therapy, diabetes self-management, infertility services, and all sorts of other benefits they did not want or need.

It’s my understanding HR 3962 is Dead on Arrival in the Senate. I hope so. We need health care reform, but we need it in a way that preserves freedom, not destroys it. An insurance purchase mandate is a little thing, but it is not just a little thing. It is yet another little thing in a chain of a thousand.

America’s armed forces protect our freedom against tyranny from without. Our democratic institutions protect our freedom against tyranny from within. But ultimately it is we the people, and we alone, who protect the rights of each to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This includes, I would suggest, the freedom to not buy insurance. Even if Congress and the president think you should.

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