Under the guise of preventing cost shifting, that is, Obamacare commits cost shifting. It shifts the costs of the benefits the law confers, especially the new requirement that insurance companies must provide affordable health insurance to all applicants, regardless of their medical history. It shifts the cost to the majority of people ineligible for the high-deductible, catastrophic insurance policies they might well prefer. Buying a more expensive policy covering a long list of benefits the government says are essential, but which the individual obeying the mandate may consider excessive, increases the flow of premium dollars to the health insurance companies, offsetting the costs of their new obligations.
There is a technical term for the mechanism used by the government to secure funds for discharging obligations it considers important. It's called a "tax." Hardly anyone disputes that Congress possesses the constitutional power to enact a tax to pay for newly conferred healthcare benefits. Whether it possesses the authority to mandate that Americans enter into contracts to purchase insurance from third parties in the furtherance of some governmental objective is, by contrast, a contestable question.
Thus, it would have reduced Obamacare's complexity and constitutional jeopardy if the president had chosen to pay for it with a tax. Obama eschewed such candor, and resorted to the individual mandate, in order to keep his campaign promise not to raise any federal tax on any U.S. family making less than $250,000.
The individual mandate is more than a bad solution for the administration's tax-pledge problem, however. Both the mandate and the tax promise are symptoms of modern liberalism's core defect: chronic disingenuousness about its agenda's costs and how those costs will be paid. It was always absurd, even insulting, for Obama to claim he could fulfill his many campaign promises about healthcare, green jobs, infrastructure investments, expanding education and on and on, while exempting 97% of all Americans from any tax increase. The individual mandate compounds that problem, and that dishonesty, by paying for Obama's central domestic achievement with a tax that pretends it's not a tax.
William Voegeli is a senior editor of the Claremont Review of Books, the author of "Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State," and a visiting scholar at Claremont McKenna College's Salvatori Center.