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Opinion

Health-care reform: Why I'm suing to get back my freedom

A small-business owner and former Iraq war combat medic explains why he's challenging the new health-care law's requirement that everyone buy insurance.

By Matt Sissel / September 13, 2010



Iowa City, Iowa

Since the new federal health care law was enacted in March, some 21 states have joined or filed legal challenges. Everyday Americans have, too.

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I’m one of them.

I filed a federal lawsuit at the end of July. Depending on how the briefing is scheduled, oral argument could take place in the first quarter of 2011.

I’m a 29-year-old veteran and small business owner, with no political involvement or ambitions. So, why would I take this dramatic step?

Individual mandate

The answer starts with explaining what exactly I’m challenging: the constitutionality of the health care law’s “individual mandate.” Beginning in 2014, nearly everyone will be required to purchase a private health insurance plan if he or she isn’t already covered by an employer.

Not just any health insurance will be allowed. For example, because I’ll be older than 30 when the mandate kicks in, I won’t be given an option to buy low-cost, high-deductible insurance that would pay only for “catastrophic” medical situations. Instead, I’ll have to buy a more costly plan with a broad range of federally prescribed coverage.

The government should not limit our choices about such intensely personal matters, or burden us with expensive and inflexible mandates.

Consider my situation. I’m a healthy young man fresh out of art school. I’m starting a small business, based in Iowa City, as a fine artist specializing in realistic drawing and painting. I have limited means and struggle to achieve my modest dreams. Every penny counts in the service of my career goals, but the federal government is intent on slowing down my progress and the progress of every other productive man and woman in this country in its drive to socialize the American health care system.

As a business person, I intend to cover my own medical expenses, and I want the freedom and flexibility to do my own budgeting, including setting aside money for medical needs.

I don’t want the federal government dictating my personal financial decisions.

It can’t even run its own budget!

Founding principles

My principles, I believe, are the same ones held by our founding fathers. To defend individual freedom, they tried to limit the size of the federal government and what it could do. They could not have conceived of the federal entanglement in people’s personal, private choices that “Obamacare” represents.

In my lawsuit, I’m represented by lawyers with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a watchdog organization for limited government. We are invoking the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, a provision that both gives the federal government power and draws boundaries around that power.

Congress is authorized to “regulate commerce ... among the several states.” But that is not a license to compel anyone to engage in commerce, or to force us to buy federally dictated products.

As Luke Wake, one of my attorneys, says: “Never before has the federal government ordered citizens to buy a good or service on pain of financial punishment. The Constitution, properly interpreted, simply doesn’t permit this kind of micro-management of people’s lives by bureaucrats in Washington.”

I proudly served our country in the Iowa Army National Guard as a combat medic, spending two years in Iraq and eventually being awarded the Bronze Star. I mention that experience in order to drive home this point: While I am proud to have served my state and my country as a volunteer, I object to being conscripted into a federal health-care program that is at odds with basic constitutional principles of individual rights and limited government.

I see my lawsuit as a battle for my liberty – my freedom to live out my life to the fullest without costly, one-size-fits-all dictates from the government. I am fighting the command-and-control health-care plan in order to safeguard the health of our Constitution and the freedoms it protects for me and for all Americans.

Iowa City resident Matt Sissel served eight years in the Iowa Army National Guard. His lawsuit, Sissel v. US Department of Health & Human Services, has been filed in the US District Court in Washington. A version of this piece ran in Mr. Sissel’s hometown paper, the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

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