Does PPACA’s Mandate ‘Carry into Execution’ the Commerce Power?

The Obama administration contends that its mandate to purchase health insurance is “necessary and proper” to effect PPACA’s comprehensive scheme of interstate health care regulation. The constitutional argument is two-part: First, the Commerce Clause empowers Congress to regulate interstate health care. Second, the Necessary & Proper Clause empowers Congress to implement health care regulation by directing individuals to acquire medical insurance or pay a penalty. The administration concedes that the underlying purpose of the mandate is to subsidize insurance companies so they can afford to cover pre-existing conditions, which PPACA commands.

Consider the text of the Necessary & Proper Clause. It authorizes Congress “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution … all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States.” For example, Congress’s power to spend—which is not expressly mentioned in the Constitution—is necessary for carrying into execution numerous other powers that entail the expenditure of money. Also, the Supreme Court has determined that Congress’s power to regulate intrastate commerce may occasionally be necessary for carrying into execution Congress’s enumerated power “To regulate Commerce among the several States.” Similarly, Congress’s power to establish a federal penal system may be necessary for carrying into execution Congress’s enumerated power “To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting” and certain other crimes.

All those implied powers are instrumental. They afford a means by which other express powers can be carried into execution. By contrast, PPACA’s health insurance mandate does not carry into execution any express power, including the Commerce Power to regulate interstate health care. Indeed, health care regulation—even with its requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions—could have been implemented without the mandate, in which case insurance companies would have been compelled to raise premiums, cut other costs, or accept lower profits.

Instead of carrying health care regulation into execution, the mandate is designed solely to produce a specified outcome for the benefit of private insurers—i.e., to subsidize insurers so they don’t have to raise premiums, cut other costs, or accept lower profits. In other words, the mandate is simply a cost distribution scheme: a policy judgment having nothing to do with facilitating execution and everything to do with who pays the bill. Because the mandate relates to outcome and not process, it cannot be prerequisite for carrying into execution the Commerce Power. Accordingly, it cannot be authorized under the Necessary & Proper Clause, the sole purpose of which is to carry other powers into execution.