While I agree with Calvin Massey that Linda Greenhouse could have articulated the case in favor of the individual mandate more effectively, I think she’s correct in her bottom line about the challenge to the mandate.
In particular, the constitutional challenge ultimately rests on a flawed premise—that if Congress can require people to buy a good or service solely because they are living in the United States, the commerce clause will be converted into an expansive power to compel just about any purchase. Today, we must buy health care coverage, tomorrow we might have to buy broccoli or GM cars.
But in fact, invalidation of the individual mandate would protect the public from only a few purchase mandates—mandates to purchase some kinds of insurance.
To be sure, a ruling against the mandate would mean that Congress could not force us to go out and buy broccoli or GM cars. But the government already has other ways to make us buy those goods. Congress still would have the power to require grocery stores and restaurants to include broccoli with every sale, and it still would have the power to require automobile dealers to sell only GM vehicles. If Congress really wants to make us buy something, it can find a voluntary economic transaction to regulate. That the individual mandate is not tied to a voluntary economic transaction simply reflects the fact that health care insurance must be procured in advance of the time when health care is needed.