Opting out

Should you be punished for paying your own way and deciding not to participate in a government program?

That's apparently what beltway bureaucrats and politicians believe.

On Wednesday, three men filed suit in federal court challenging a regulation that allows the government to withhold Social Security benefits from those who want no part of the Medicare system.

The three men -- Brian Hall of Catlett, Va.; Lewis Randall of Whidbey Island, Wash.; and Norman Rogers of Miami -- are all retired and say they're happy to pay for their own health care. During their working years, they each contributed the required amount every pay period to both Medicare and Social Security.

But because they choose not to sign up for Medicare Part A -- thus saving taxpayers money -- the government refuses to cut them Social Security checks.

The policy stems from an obscure regulation adopted by the Social Security Administration in 1993 under President Clinton and strengthened in 2002 by the Bush White House.

"The law is clear here," Jeff Nelligan, spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told The Associated Press. "If an individual receives a Social Security check, that person must accept the Part A benefit."

Well, then, the law -- to steal from Dickens -- is a ass.

The regulation is obviously intended to coerce seniors -- especially rich seniors -- into accepting Medicare benefits, thus padding the dependent constituency necessary to prop up the program's political viability. But it's an assault on an individual's freedom of choice.

Let's hope the lawsuit -- based on a technical issue involving the regulation's implementation -- succeeds. If not, Congress should step in and fix this silly rule.