With the battle over the Affordable Care Act in full swing, people want to know if the government has the right to require it citizens to purchase health care, or face a penalty. During these difficult debates people always look toward the Founding Fathers, and what they would do. The Militia Act of 1792 can give a little insight into how the men who invented our country felt about the government’s right to require its citizens to buy into program.
What the Militia Act said was that every “free able-bodied male citizen” who was eighteen years old had to “provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, t[w]o spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges.” And we complain about buying some insurance. The estimated cost of all these items is about $2,000 in modern day prices.
Granted this was required because of the constant feuds with the natives, as Americans slowly crept into, and took over their territory. Since the government could not afford to keep a standing army, with the exception of one regiment, local militias were looked at as necessary to provide protection. Therefore the legislators at the time, a time when the government was still being formed and the first precedents being set, felt it was justified to require men to buy their own equipment.
You can make the same case for healthcare. With the prices skyrocketing out of control, the government needed to step in and do something to control it. The easiest way to do that was to require everyone to own insurance. That way prices would go down, because the burden of paying for the uninsured would disappear.
Is this the only answer? No, but I haven’t heard anything better, and while conservatives like to knock this bill, I haven’t heard one legitimate counter offer. Now I know that this argument would never hold up in court because the Affordable Care Act’s constitutional preference comes from the interstate commerce clause, but it does show that one of the first congresses found it completely acceptable to enact mandatory purchase laws in order to achieve national improvement. The Militia Acts were also repealed shortly after they were passed due to the complaints of many that the cost of outfitting themselves was a burden. The government didn’t offer guns cheaper than private vendors, as a form of compensation like it is going to with the ACA and it didn’t allow kids to use their father’s guns until they were 26, like the ACA does either. So let’s give this a shot, we have no other option right now.