Is a federal mandate on Americans to have health insurance a reasonable and fair requirement to protect the insured population from having to bear the medical expenses of the uninsured? Or is it a violation of the personal freedoms we hold dear in our country?

It is to answer these kinds of questions that we have a Supreme Court. Not to settle differences between Republicans and Democrats but to double check the law-making of the other two branches of government to make sure it is consistent with the framework of the U.S. Constitution.

The ultimate ruling on the constitutionality of the health care law had to go to the nation’s highest court, and that review began this week with arguments before the nine justices.

That said, if the Supreme Court does rule the insurance mandate unconstitutional, that likely will have far greater implications than if they let it stand. And opponents of the law might live to regret that a middle-of-the-road option for fixing the country’s broken health insurance system was eliminated.

Unconstitutional might be the right decision in this case, but that ruling is going to be bad for the health care system.

The requirement that every American have health insurance or pay a penalty is the mechanism by which the government can maintain an employer-provided system but get closer to universal coverage. Without it, the system we have now is critically flawed, because those who choose to go uninsured, or can’t afford insurance, are treated at the expense of those who are insured, which is a central reason health care is so expensive.

And without it, we are left with the expensive, inefficient, unfair system we have now or the alternative, which is scrapping it and having the government pay for everything. You think “Obamacare” is socialized medicine? Actually the individual mandate is an attempt to keep American medicine from becoming socialized.

That is probably why Republicans generally supported the idea of an individual mandate two decades ago, before the Democrats took charge of the health-care crisis. Until the individual mandate for health insurance became a political issue, it was seen by most as little different than requiring car owners to have insurance protecting other drivers.

Instead, the individual mandate may become a lesson in being careful for what you wish.

The health-care reform act had its problems, to be sure — it lacks measures to control costs in other ways and got loaded down with junk like an ugly Christmas tree — but the individual mandate wasn’t one of them.

— The Hutchinson News