The Inconsistency Between the Constitutional Arguments for the Mandate and Medicaid in the ACA

Now that Eugene has given me the electronic keys to this Conspiracy, I could not resist getting involved in the now-legendary discussion of the ACA…

There is a serious inconsistency between the government’s arguments for the mandate and for the Medicaid expansion. In a nutshell, these arguments make opposite assumptions about the effect of financial duress on states’ ability to execute their policy preferences. Defending the mandate, the government says states are individually incompetent to regulate insurance, because the first state to adopt generous rules would be inundated with the sick, and forced to abandon its policy. This is a basic race to the bottom story and has been around in Commerce Clause cases since the New Deal.

Crucially, the argument takes financial realities as dispositive: states cannot realistically choose to experiment with medical insurance individually because it would be ruinous. The economic effects mean that states do not really have the power to choose individual regulatory regimes.

Yet turning to the Spending power, the government ask us to believe that states can realistically turn down federal medicaid funds, though it would be at least as ruinous if not more. Either the prospect of massive losses makes a states ability to pursue a certain course illusory or it does not. 

Incidentally, these two cases are not equal in that in that in the former, the ruinous consequences are a result of the market, in the latter a result of calculated federal efforts to make the offer unrefusable.

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