Gordon Peterson on Friday asked either a staggeringly ignorant or intentionally provocative question.
On the most recent installment of PBS's "Inside Washington," the host queried his guests, "Why is it constitutional to require Americans to buy automobile insurance but un-Constitutional to force them to buy health insurance?" (video follows with transcript and commentary):
GORDON PETERSON, HOST: That’s Ken Cuccinelli. He’s the attorney general of Virginia. He brought the challenge to ObamaCare. The federal court and judge Henry Hudson of Virginia ruled it’s un-Constitutional to force Americans to buy health insurance, as the law mandates. Why is it constitutional to require Americans to buy automobile insurance but un-Constitutional to force them to buy health insurance?
NINA TOTENBERG, NPR: Well, the argument is that you don't have to own a car.
Totenberg's only partially right about the argument.
Indeed, the analogy would only be valid if the government forced you to have a car. As it doesn't, not everyone is required to buy auto insurance. Only 89 percent of American households own a car.
But there's another facet of this issue that most folks like Totenberg miss: states only require car owners to purchase liability insurance. This covers damages drivers inflict on other people's property and not their own.
The concept here is that cars are dangerous vehicles that can cause financial or personal harm to others. The owner is therefore required to have coverage that insures that any damages one causes to others as a result of one's driving will be paid for. The only way of ensuring this is by requiring drivers to have liability policies.
However, states do not require drivers to have what's called collision and comprehensive insurance. Such policies cover damages to one's own vehicle and property.
As such, the auto insurance requirement is actually for the benefit of others and not the actual insured. By contrast, health insurance is exclusively a benefit to the buyer of it. This makes it far different than automobile liability insurance.
Of course, the position of ObamaCare supporters is that others benefit by all people owning health insurance in that medical costs and premiums are inflated by buyers in theory having to cover expenses incurred by the uninsured.
Whether the justices of the Supreme Court are going to buy that argument under the Commerce Clause is debatable.
That said, if Peterson is going to raise such a provocative question, it would have been nice if he or someone on the panel fully explained this issue as it is quite clear a large component of Americans doesn't understand why there is a huge difference between requiring car owners to purchase auto insurance and demanding everyone buy health insurance.