Mandatory Medicare

Entitlement or obligation?


In October 2008 three senior citizens, including former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They wanted to opt out of Medicare, stay on their private health insurance plans, but still collect Social Security benefits. They did not ask for a refund of the taxes they'd paid into Medicare—just an exemption from enrollment without losing the Social Security benefits they'd funded for decades.

In March of this year, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Coll-yer ruled against the trio and in favor of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "Plaintiffs are trapped in a government program intended for their benefit," Collyer wrote. "They disagree and wish to escape." But she concluded that there was "no loophole or requirement that the Secretary provide such a pathway."

Kent Brown, the lead attorney for the three seniors, said he plans to appeal. He warned that Collyer's ruling set an ominous precedent. By her logic, he said in a press statement, "an entitlement is now an obligation."