The Broccoli Mandate: Can the Feds Force Us to Eat Veggies Now?

If you can't opt out of health care, then what happens when it comes to buying broccoli? At least that's the Tea Party logic.

Last year's health care bill has been challenged in courts in Florida and Virginia, on the grounds that it is unconstitutional because it has a "mandate"—it requires people to buy health insurance or pay a fine.

What's so bad about that? The thinking—infused with Tea Party rhetoric—goes something like this: If Congress can force Americans to buy health insurance, the feds could also force us to buy "wheat bread," go to the gym, or (oh no!) eat our vegetables.

As The New York Times reports, Judge Roger Vinson said in his ruling on Monday (page 46) that if the health insurance mandate stood, then:

Congress could require that people buy and consume broccoli at regular intervals, not only because the required purchases will positively impact interstate commerce, but also because people who eat healthier tend to be healthier, and are thus more productive and put less of a strain on the health care system.


So does accepting an insurance mandate put us on a slippery slope to a broccoli mandate? The wonks at Wonk Room think not:

Eating broccoli will presumably improve health and eventually lower health care costs, but requiring individuals to do so is fairly coercive and doesn’t present the kind of direct and immediate connection to commerce as encouraging people to purchase health insurance. Brocolli also doesn’t create any kind of cost-shift and is also not something we finance through insurance because food is a predictable expense that is paid in relatively small installments. Health care costs, on the other hand, come at you out of the blue and can be enormous.


It is still a good idea, of course, to eat plenty of broccoli.

Illustration (cc) by Flickr user Pippypippy.