WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The controversial insurance mandate outlined in the new national health care law marks the federal government's "greatest intrusion" into society, a former Bush administration Justice Department official said.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which President Barack Obama signed this month, marks the most significant expansion of medical care since Congress created Medicare in 1965 for the nation's elderly and disabled.
The law will require, among other mandates, that most Americans have medical insurance or face financial penalties.
Under the law, beginning in 2014, individuals who flout the mandate face an annual penalty of $695, while employers could face penalties of $2,000 per worker for not offering affordable health coverage.
John Yoo, a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer now teaching at the University of California at Berkeley, said the individual insurance mandate "forms the centerpiece of the federal government`s latest, greatest intrusion into civil society."
In an op-ed published recently in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Yoo said Obama is moving to nationalize the one-sixth of the economy by requiring people to have medical coverage.
"For the first time in American history, the federal government has decided that every man, woman and child must do more than simply mind their own business. Upon the threat of fine, each American now must go out and buy health insurance," wrote Yoo, who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Fighting against the individual mandate is more than a dozen state attorneys general. They are suing the federal government over the provision, saying it violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constiitution.
In Yoo's estimation, much of the national health care law will pass constitutional muster but the individual insurance mandate will not.
He explained that the U.S. Supreme Court has "never upheld a federal law that punishes Americans for exercising their God-given right to do absolutely nothing."
He asked: "If the government can force every American to buy health insurance, why can`t it impose fines for not losing weight, not exercising, or not eating low-fat foods -- all in an effort to reduce the nation's health care costs?"
From 2001 to 2003, Yoo served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice.