Single Payer Advocates Who Want the Individual Mandate to be Struck Down

Among the many amicus briefs filed in Supreme Court on the individual mandate case in recent days is this one urging the Court to strike down the mandate, on behalf of a group of supporters of single payer health care.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post criticizing claims (usually made by left-liberal defenders of the mandate) that conservatives and libertarians should support the mandate because it is the only alternative to socialized medicine. One of the points I made was the following:

[I]f getting rid of the individual mandate really will bring on the advent of socialized medicine, why don’t any liberal activists and health care experts support it? There are plenty of left-wingers who would prefer socialized medicine to the Obama plan. If they think that the repeal of the latter would lead to the former, then they should form a coalition with Obamacare opponents on the right and work to get it repealed. A small number of liberals are in fact willing to get rid of the mandate, most notably Howard Dean. But even Dean doesn’t claim that abolition of the mandate would lead to socialized medicine. He merely thinks that the mandate is a political liability for Democrats and that the Obama plan can work just as well without it. The extreme rarity of left-wing support for repeal of the mandate suggests that few liberals genuinely believe that getting rid of it is likely to lead to socialized medicine.

The organizations represented in this brief (Single Payer Action, It’s Our Economy, and a group of fifty physicians who support a single payer system) do seem to believe that getting rid of the mandate would help pave the way for a single payer system – though the legal arguments in their brief don’t rely on this idea. So there are at least some single-payer advocates who want to abolish the mandate and believe that this will help their cause in the long run.

That said, I’m still not convinced that opposition to the mandate is a poor strategy for opponents of socialized medicine. Many of the points I laid out in my earlier post on the subject are completely independent of whether single-payer advocates happen to agree with me. Moreover, it seems clear that the vast majority of left-wingers still do support the mandate, at least in the sense that they consider it to be an improvement over the preexisting status quo and do not believe that it is an obstacle to further expansion of government control over health care.

Looking at a relatively complete list of briefs filed in the case, it is noteworthy that every other brief filed by a left of center party urges the Court to uphold the mandate – many of them defending the mandate on policy as well as purely legal grounds. With due respect to the parties represented in this particular brief, none of them seem to be major players in the public policy debate. However, I welcome correction from health care experts who think I may be underrating their importance.

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