As best as I can tell, the arguments at the Supreme Court did not touch on a critical part of the discussion about government’s role in health care: the broken market for private insurance. And I think I know why.
A key assumption underlying the arguments, questions and answers was that all uninsured people are uninsured by choice. Sure, some very ill people with preexisting conditions do not qualify. But the implication was clear: Most uninsured people either do not want to pay for insurance or cannot afford it. Justice Samuel Alito said, “You can get health insurance.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made the point that people who don’t participate are making it more expensive for others, that their “free choice” affects others. The “free rider” problem is thoroughly examined.
It was as if the court forgot that the private insurance market does not function as a normal market. If you are not employed and you want to purchase insurance in the private market, you cannot unilaterally decide to do so. An insurer has to accept you as a customer. And quite often, they don’t. Insurers prefer group plans, with lots of people enrolled to spread the risk. Can you blame them? The individual consumer is a lot of work, is a higher risk and produces relatively little revenue.