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Recommended Reading: Interesting Takes on the Individual Mandate

Posted Feb 13 2011 5:58pm

kate-greenwood-kg-2010-1-cropped-comp In her pithy, provocative essay The Freedom of Health (forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review), Abigail Moncrieff argues that there exists a nascent constitutional right to “freedom of health” that is, to “individual autonomy in healthcare decision-making.”  The right is primarily a negative one, a “freedom to reject care” not to demand it (in contrast to the international human “right to the highest attainable standard of health” ).  But Professor Moncrieff argues that there is also a “freedom to obtain care” that is “implicit in and therefore tethered to the [Supreme] Court’s reproductive rights jurisprudence” but which “also gained five non-precedential votes in the assisted suicide case.”  Among other implications, Professor Moncrieff argues that the freedom of health complicates the analysis of the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.  She explains that

“today’s insurance contracts are not mere risk pools, gathering and distributing funds for healthcare consumption at the discretion of the insured.  Instead, today’s contracts give insurers variable amounts of discretion, under ‘medical necessity’ review, to decide whether or not their insured can buy various kinds of healthcare with the pool’s money.  That is, insurance companies today use their contracts to steer individuals towards certain healthcare consumption decisions, often refusing to cover treatments that they deem ineffective, unnecessary, or even just inordinately costly. … There seems, therefore to be a colorable claim that the mandate infringes the freedom of health by requiring individuals to enter discretion-limiting insurance contracts–requiring individuals to give a third-party insurer the power to influence or even to direct their healthcare spending.”

While Professor Moncrieff ultimately concludes that PPACA’s individual mandate does not unconstitutionally impinge on the freedom of health because it is narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling government interests in “[e]xpanding health insurance coverage and decreasing costs of insurance on the individual market,” this in no way diminishes the timeliness or relevance of her essay.  It seems inevitable that we will confront much closer cases in the not-too-distant future.

Theodore Ruger’s Can a Patient-Centered Ethos Be Other-Regarding?  Ought It Be? (published as part of a symposium on patient-centered health and ethics at 45 Wake Forest L. Rev. 1513 (2010)) also takes on the individual mandate, explaining that it “reflect[s] the principle of group solidarity” in that it “will drive more healthy Americans into larger private risk pools, and the prices they pay will in many cases be higher than is appropriate for their own age- and health-adjusted actuarial risk; this mandate will effectively result in a redistributive tax on youth and good health.”  Professor Ruger’s essay explores the tension between, on the one hand, the principle of group solidarity reflected in the individual mandate and elsewhere in PPACA and, on the other, the “preference for individualization in American medicine” and “the correlative resistance to therapeutic standardization among providers and patients.”  Professor Ruger notes that there is a “normative clash” between those who believe “medicine could be, or ought to be, standardized through collectivized expert agencies” and those who favor a “patient-centered conception of decisional authority.”  Disputes like the in late 2009 over the United States Preventive Services Task Force’s breast cancer screening recommendations, are “bound to recur in a system that is becoming increasingly interconnected, particularly given the scholarly and bureaucratic interest in giving greater prominence to expert cost-effectiveness research and best-practices standardization.”  Professor Ruger discusses several ways that “concern for broader systemic goals” might be incorporated into a “patient-centered ethos of medical care,” but is skeptical that medical ethics will, or ought to be, dislodged from its individualistic focus.  Instead, he concludes his thought-provoking essay by raising the possibility of “enhanc[ing] sensitivity to patient concerns on the part of the public and private institutions that in future decades will exert more standardizing and collectivizing pressures on the individual therapeutic relationship[.]“

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