A Philosopher's Blog

Buy Insurance or Pay a Fine?

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 24, 2010
Health care for all protest outside health ins...
Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

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.

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22 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on March 24, 2010 at 7:50 am

    “If I had been seriously injured, the medical expenses would have broken me financially.”

    Insurance with a high deductible costs about $100 per month. Lots of young, healthy people choose not to spend the $100/month, assuming that if they get sick they don’t have much to lose anyway as their net worth is pretty small or even negative.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 26, 2010 at 1:43 pm

      True, going without insurance can be a rational gamble. You just need to calculate the odds of each illness/injury against the cost, etc. I’m less inclined to gamble (so I have home owner’s insurance as well) because I’m more adverse to a devastating loss than I am to paying for my insurance. Also, $100 a month is about what people pay for cable or their phone bill. In that perspective, it isn’t that bad.

      • magus71 said, on March 28, 2010 at 2:28 pm


        Your insurance is not free. If you’d been given the money as cash by your employer, you could have paid for the surgery. You also could have invested the money.

        I believe high deductable insurance is the way out of our health care problems.

        We have to remember that nothing of value comes without a price.

        As for forcing people under threat of fines to buy health insurance, I can barely believe this is happening in my great country.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 28, 2010 at 8:40 pm

          I know my insurance isn’t free. I have, of course, considered the relative merits of going without insurance. However, I’m rather risk averse and so I’ll keep my insurance. While I might be lucky and come out ahead by not having it, I could also get hit by truck while running and spend a few months being put back together again. Or I could get cancer. Or…

          But, I do agree that this should be a matter of choice. But, this would also seem to entail that folks who elect to go without insurance should not be covered by the public. After all if they chose to not pay their way, then we should not have to pay for them.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on March 24, 2010 at 7:55 am

    Let’s not forget that Obama broke yet another campaign promise…

    In a debate the week before primaries in Texas and Ohio, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama argued yet again over their health care plans. Clinton charged Obama with distorting her health care plan in a mailer, while Obama stuck by its claims.

    The mailer states in part: “The way Hillary Clinton’s health care plan covers everyone is to have the government force uninsured people to buy insurance, even if they can’t afford it.” Clinton said that wasn’t an accurate description of her plan.

    “It’s been unfortunate that Senator Obama has consistently said that I would force people to have health care whether they could afford it or not,” Clinton said, adding “my plan will cover everyone and it will be affordable.”

    But Obama defended the mailer, saying that it “accurately indicates that the main difference between Senator Clinton’s plan and mine is the fact that she would force in some fashion individuals to purchase health care.”

    “If it was not affordable, she would still presumably force them to have it, unless there is a hardship exemption as they’ve done in Massachusetts, which leaves 20 percent of the uninsured out. And if that’s the case, then, in fact, her claim that she covers everybody is not accurate.”

    When candidates talk about universal health care plans, they usually mean that every person in the country will be covered. Clinton’s plan achieves that with an individual mandate, requiring every person in the country to either have insurance or buy it. Obama’s plan does not have a similar mechanism, and Clinton regularly criticizes him for it.


  3. T. J. Babson said, on March 24, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Since we are now comfortable with making the government force people to buy things, we should also think about what the Repubs may want to force people to buy when they are back in power.

  4. T. J. Babson said, on March 25, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Obama opposing mandates.

  5. tourist2010 said, on March 25, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    I like the provision that requires every American to buy health insurance.
    Right now there are a lot of people who say “I’m healthy, I don’t need insurance. Why should I be forced to pay?”.
    Then they get hit by a bus , wind up in the hospital and require hundreds of thousands of dollars of expensive hospitalization and surgery.
    When it comes time to pay the bill they say “Sorry, I don’t have insurance. And I can’t afford your bill.”
    And walk out the door leaving the rest of us who are responsible to pick up the tab for them.

    Now if we had a law that says “If someone gets hit by a bus and they don’t have health insurance…send them home in a taxi”…OK, let’s not make everyone get insurance.

    But NO ONE is going to pass a law like that.

    So I feel everyone needs to take responsibility. Either get insurance, post a bond or pay a into a pool so there’s money to pay for you in case you get hit by a bus.

    People who don’t have insurance and don’t pay their medical bills are like shoplifters. They walk in, take what they want, walk out without paying, and leave the rest of us paying customers to pick up the bill for the stolen item in the form of higher prices. And with a stay in the hospital averaging $8000 a day….that’s not chump change

    • P.E.N.Name said, on March 25, 2010 at 6:08 pm

      The problem is, the fine for not purchasing insurance under this bill is a relative pittance. And from what I gather, the non-purchaser can purchase insurance after the fact (he can’t be refused) so he’ll be fully covered at that point. It’s a safe gamble for the irresponsible and the wannabe immortals.

  6. Travis said, on March 25, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    I see one problem in the author’s argument. “In the case of the third argument, it can be pointed out that we are already compelled to buy auto insurance.”

    The difference between the health care insurance and auto insurance is that you are only required to have auto insurance IF you have a car. No one is forcing you to have the car; it is a privilege. To accept the privilege of a car is to accept the responsibility to buy auto insurance.

    However, this health care bill forces people to buy health insurance just to avoid a fine or jail. Auto insurance requires action (buying a car) that is your own free will. The health care bill takes away your free will.

    • P.E.N.Name said, on March 25, 2010 at 6:04 pm

      Travis, I can solve your problem for you. Since it seems your parents are the responsible ones, let’s require them to pay your insurance. They chose to have you of their own free will(an action, like buying a car)Heck, for all we know you may have been conceived in a car! 🙂 They should be as concerned about you as they are about their cars (or at least as willing to accede to the laws requiring them to purchase insurance).You in turn should be responsible for paying for your own children’s health insurance. Advice: Don’t procreate too much unless you can afford the rapidly rising insurance rates.

      • T. J. Babson said, on March 25, 2010 at 8:32 pm

        You guys are talking as if “responsibility” were still a meaningful concept.

        • P.E.N.Name said, on March 25, 2010 at 11:09 pm

          You wouldn’t be hinting that the blame for the failure of individual responsibility falls on government, would you? Place some blame, please, on society’s progress–and disintegration– (far-flung transportation system, specialized and decentralized employment opportunities, the devaluing of the sacred marriage vows long before gay marriage was a ‘threat!) that, among other things, blew up the nuclear family, spreading mother father sister and brother and grandchildren hither and yon across the vast American landscape -and now worldwide? And growth that comes along with a 100-fold increase in the US population since the late 18th century? And institutions like the church that have failed to meet moral standards they themselves have set? And the 24/7 newsbeat that makes even the smallest event disproportionately ‘significant’ and gives a ‘new meaning’ to ‘RealitY?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 26, 2010 at 1:51 pm

          It still is. In some cases. 🙂

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 26, 2010 at 1:50 pm

      True, the analogy is not perfect.

      However, we do still have free will regarding health care: a person can refuse and fight the fine in court. But, I do admit, that there is less choice in the case of health insurance. After all, while you can chose not to have a car, you are stuck with having a body (at least while you are alive).

      • P.E.N.Name said, on March 26, 2010 at 3:16 pm

        Yes, “we’re stuck with having a body”. That’s why it would be appropriate to require parents to pay for their offspring’s insurance. After all, without them, we wouldn’t be ‘stuck’ with these bodies.

  7. tourist2010 said, on March 28, 2010 at 4:06 am

    Quote: “Of course, there still seems to be a concern that we are required by law to buy a commercial product.”

    I believe that is correct. The government can force you tu buy a smoke alarm for your house, or purchase insulation when you build a house.

    In fact the government can require you to sign up for the draft, pay taxes, or wear a bicycle helmet even if you don’t want to.

    The government can forbid you to smoke pot, view child pornography, visit a prostitute, undress in public, utter words they don’t like, have sex with animals, be drunk in public..and a whole host of “victimless crimes”

    So when people say their rights are being violated by being required to by insurance to ensure that you don’t become a burden on the rest of society by not paying your hospital bill…there’s a whole host of rights that the government can take away from you for far less important reasons.

    We do not have the freedom to do or not to do what we want. In many cases our freedoms are defined by the government.

  8. magus71 said, on March 28, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    “So when people say their rights are being violated by being required to by insurance to ensure that you don’t become a burden on the rest of society by not paying your hospital bill…there’s a whole host of rights that the government can take away from you for far less important reasons.”

    Really? will illegal immigrants be fined?

    Sorry, this whole thing is offensive to the very unique American spirit.

    “He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”~ 1984

  9. magus71 said, on March 31, 2010 at 9:18 am

    “Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.”~Ronald Reagan

  10. livrariajoaosoares.com said, on June 9, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    There are different types of automobile insurance based on the power that this type of coverage of the vehicle. personal auto insurance varies, and different types of insurance application based on your preferences and how much you’re willing to separate you from your coverage of the vehicle.

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