by Dan Krell © 2012
This week, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) heard arguments for and against issues surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA). The arguments don’t have much of anything to do with providing healthcare, but rather the arguments are about certain elements of PPACA and the Constitution. In fact, Tuesday’s arguments about the individual mandate could be applied to anything – even the housing market.
The individual mandate portion of the PPACA basically requires certain individuals to purchase healthcare insurance or pay a penalty. Individual mandates are not new, and have been enacted in the past. For example, military drafts and income tax have been mandated (the initial enactment of an income tax was found unconstitutional- so the Constitution was amended which resulted in the sixteenth amendment).
I’m not an attorney, and I’m sure that I don’t begin to scratch the surface of the issue; however, the arguments for and against the individual mandate can basically be summed up as follows: Those that oppose the PPACA individual mandate argue that this mandate is different from others such that it regulates commercial inactivity (e.g., levying a fine when a product or service is not purchased); while those in support of the mandate argue it is not a fine for non-participation, but rather a tax.
Regardless, which way you approach the mandate, some contend that a mandate is only one way to have the public engage in commerce. In an editorial that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, Einer Elhauge, J.D. described the individual mandate as an alternative to providing subsidies (Elhauge, E (2012). The Irrelevance of the Broccoli Argument against the Insurance Mandate. The New England Journal of Medicine 366, e1. published on December 21, 2011). Putting aside Elhauge’s reasoning and opinion of the SCOTUS case; he points out that the Government has many ways to affect industries and commerce. Typically, the Government attempts to persuade us to engage in specific businesses industries by providing incentives and subsidies, such as tax credits to industry participants or purchasers of specific products. However, rather than persuading economic activity, the PPACA individual mandate is historic in that it requires participation and fines those who do not participate.
Like other industries, the housing industry is subsidized to encourage participation; home ownership is encouraged through the mortgage interest tax deduction and low interest rate mortgage programs (and for a brief time- first time home buyer tax credits). However, it is not implausible to think that if SCOTUS upholds the individual mandate, Congress could require people to make home a purchase, renovate, or retrofit their homes with green technologies (in an effort to increase economic activity in those industries).
There are some that argue that subsidies are bad enough for the housing market; one argument is that the mortgage interest deduction has artificially elevated home prices. However, some subsidies may only influence the timing of purchases rather than value: recent data suggests that the brief first time home buyer tax credit created short-term spikes of home sales that would have likely occurred over a period of time.
On the face of it, the housing market has little to do with health care. However, this week, housing and other industries may be affected by the SCOTUS decision regarding the healthcare individual mandate. Subsidies verses mandates- it may ultimately be about semantics and interpretation.
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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of March 26, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.