May 24, 2013 4:40PM

Are You Indian Enough to Be Exempt from Obamacare?

You can’t make this up: Obamacare exempts certain American Indians from the “choice” Americans will face as of January of buying health insurance or paying Chief Justice Roberts’s special tax. But apparently this is a far narrower category of people than those recognized as “Indian” under various state laws:

The problem is so new that the federal government is still seeking to establish how many people might be affected, although Indian health advocacy groups estimate it could be up to 480,000.

In California alone, about 21,000 people who currently receive free health care through Indian clinics are not recognized as Native American by the federal government and would have to pay the penalty, according to the nonprofit California Rural Indian Health Board.

So people who’ve considered themselves American Indian all their lives and have been treated as such by their states–including for health care purposes–suddenly won’t be considered Indian as far as Obamacare is concerned. 

Wow–Indian law is complicated and constitutionally problematic enough without having further regulatory overlays bollix up the works even more. But that’s what happens when government encoraches more and more into civil society. As I wrote in January in an article on, of all things, the contraceptive mandate:

But there’s an even bigger issue here. This is just the latest example of the difficulties in turning health care—or increasing parts of our economy more broadly—over to the government. As my colleague Roger Pilon has written, when health care (or anything) is socialized or treated as a public utility, we’re forced to fight for every “carve‐​out” of liberty…

The more government controls—whether health care, education, or even marriage—the greater the battles over conflicting values. With certain things, such as national defense, basic infrastructure, clean air and water and other “public goods,” we largely agree, at least inside reasonable margins. But we have vast disagreements about social programs, economic regulation and so much else that government now dominates at the expense of individual liberty.

Obamacare delenda est.