Whenever the subject of the health insurance mandate comes up, one of the most common- perhaps the most common- rejoinders directed at people who oppose forcing everyone in the country to give money to the insurance companies whether they want their product or not is to cite the precedent of mandatory automobile liability insurance.
Now, like virtually all statist arguments that take the form of, "If it's OK for the government to do X, it's OK for it to do Y," the desirability of X is simply assumed without argument. (New Hampshire has no mandatory insurance laws for drivers, and has somehow avoided becoming an apocalyptic Mad Max-esque hellhole.) Leave that aside for the now. There are a number of important dissimilarities between the two types of insurances and the mandate laws concerning them that make the analogy dubious, but put that aside for the moment as well.
Suppose they are analogous, such that if mandatory automobile insurance for drivers is unobjectionable then insurance mandate is likewise unobjectionable. For that to be the case, the argument that justifies one must also work as a justification for the other. What is the argument for mandatory automobile insurance?
The stated purpose of mandatory insurance is to prevent people from potentially imposing costs on others by incurring debts to others- lawsuit damages from a collision, in this case- that they cannot pay. The reason it's generally considered unobjectionable to fulfill this objective by requiring drivers to buy insurance is that operating a vehicle on a government-owned road is, we are told at great length, a privilege and not a right. Therefore, the reasoning goes, it is reasonable for the government to impose conditions that a citizen must fulfill or "agree" to before he or she may exercise that privilege.
This can include things that would be considered unreasonable, unconstitutional, or outright tyrannical if applied to legally recognized rights. No one seriously advocates requiring insurance for possible defamation suits or unpaid child support for anyone who speaks in public or has sex, or making people apply for a government permit and pass a test before choosing what religion to practice, for instance, whereas landatory automobile insurance for drivers inspires little criticism or controversy.
This allows various moral and constitutional inconveniences to go by the wayside when mere privileges are involved. It's why constitutional rights concerning search and seizure and self-incrimination are a dead letter if the police decide, as they have the legal power to do in some states, to hold you down and forcibly stick you with a needle to draw your blood for a blood alcohol level test- you gave your "implied consent" in return for the privilege of driving. It's why, as we've been shown recently, you can be required to submit to having your genitals groped by government agents before boarding an airplane. It's why the federal Terrorist Screening Center can forbid you from traveling by air with the stroke of a pen, legal niceties about due process and bills of attainder notwithstanding.
A privilege, by its nature, is not something you are owed by others, or have a right to demand, or are entitled to possess and keep . It is something someone else has the right to grant or withhold at their pleasure. Privileges are something you must prove yourself worthy of, by the standards of whoever has the power to grant them. They exist so long as they are compatible with the interests and desires of the one dispensing them, and no longer.
So goes the standard justification for mandatory automobile insurance, our supposed precedent for mandatory health insurance. The commonality between the two pointed out by people drawing an analogy between them is that a person without health insurance can also impose a financial burden on others. This aspect of the analogy has its weaknesses. Leaving that aside, however, that's only part of the argument for mandatory driving insurance, and not the most important part. If the precedent of mandatory driving insurance justifies mandatory health insurance, then the activities for which people are required to buy health insurance must likewise be a privilege rather than a right. Otherwise, the analogy falls apart and the argument with it.
You fall under the scope of state automobile insurance mandates by driving an automobile on government roads. You fall under the scope of federal health insurance mandate by being alive. You don't have to actually do anything, beyond metabolizing enough oxygen in your nervous system to not be declared legally dead. The auto insurance mandate is only a relevant precedent for the health insurance mandate if being allowed to live at all is not a right, but a privilege that the government can impose conditions on, revoke, or make conditional on whatever factors those in power deem relevant to their goals for public policy.
I certainly don't think the average person using the auto insurance analogy intends that implication. On the contrary, he'd probably recoil from it if he understood it. Nevertheless, it says something when so many people so readily take something that is the quintessential example of an activity that is not regarded as a right, only a privilege that the government can grant, revoke, or set almost unlimited conditions on, and blithely treat it as analogous to being able to live at all. Though I suppose "being allowed to live at all" would be more accurate.