A Philosopher's Blog

When is a Tax Not a Tax?

Posted in Ethics, Medicine/Health, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 22, 2009

I happened to catch a segment on CNN about Obama’s health care plan. One of the many controversial parts of his proposal is that folks will be required to buy insurance. Naturally, some folks are labeling this a tax, most likely to score political points because Obama claimed that his plan would not increase taxes.

In part, this is a semantic debate over the meaning of “tax.” On one hand, it is not a tax in the usual sense.  Obama uses the obvious analogy to the fact that most states require people to buy car insurance, yet that is not considered to be a tax. On the other hand, it could be seen as a type of tax in that the state is requiring people to spend money.

While the battle over the semantics is important for political points (so Obama can try to say he is not taxing and his opponents can try to say he is), what strikes me as the more important concern is that the state would be requiring people to buy a product and this, under any name, will cost folks more money than they spend now.  This, of course, raises the important issue of whether this is a good idea or not.

On the one hand, it does seem to make sense. After all, the same sort of arguments that are used to justify requiring folks to be car insurance can be modified a bit and brought into play. When folks buy car insurance, part of it is to protect other folks when accidents occur. Likewise, if folks were forced to buy health insurance, one reason is that it would remove the expense from the rest of us when those folks get sick or hurt.

On the other hand, forcing people to buy health insurance is compelling them to spend money. While the state compels us to do things all the time, it is always reasonable to consider each new imposition carefully and to see whether the state has an adequate justification for this.

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7 Responses

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  1. magus71 said, on September 22, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    A rose by any other name…

  2. T. J. Babson said, on September 22, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Say you are one of those people who can afford health insurance but choose not to. People like this: http://reason.tv/video/show/get-some

    Now, if you get seriously ill, you will quickly exhaust your (probably megre) resources and go on medicaid.

    Under the Obama plan you will be forced to purchase insurance, and in return you will get benefits that you probably won’t need in the near term. It is indeed a kind of tax.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 22, 2009 at 5:35 pm

      They should offer health insurance packages so people would have more of a range of choice. I get a decent range of choice with my insurance options. For example, I get the basic health insurance (BC/BS) but can decide to add all sorts of other options as well. I think it is somewhat irrational to run the risk of going without insurance if it is reasonably priced. But, I think seeing the bills from my surgery might be influencing me ($11,000 from the hospital alone…for only a few hours there).

      • kernunos said, on September 22, 2009 at 11:18 pm

        Isn’t that sort of defeating the purpose of equal health care for all Mike? Oh, I get it. You want what the Aristocracy gets. Yes the politicians will get a much better plan.

  3. magus71 said, on September 22, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    If this passes, just wait for the massive amount of red tape. It’s going to be horrible. The Army’s medical system makes the public hospital’s look like a Swiss clock.

    And when 400,000 million people are on the system…

    • kernunos said, on September 22, 2009 at 11:20 pm

      This will be such an impossible sink hole of money. I cannot believe people are even contemplating this as a good idea. It is close to bankrupting the Canadians at the moment.

  4. kernunos said, on September 28, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    A tax is not a tax if you are on welfare. Then it is a gift.


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