Opinion: the Obamacare individual mandate and its inevitable end

Taxes are complicated. So, let me help you understand what the Obamacare, or Affordable Care Act (ACA), individual mandate is, what it isn’t and what it means now that it is repealed.

My idea for this post came just a few days after the GOP’s passage of tax reform. Someone approached me and randomly asked my opinion on Obamacare. Not wanting to wade into the muddy topic with a stranger I changed the subject. The person continued to ramble on, ignoring my attempt to dodge the topic.

“I am so mad,” he said. “Do you know what the Obamacare Individual Mandate is?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“It is horrible,” he said. “They repealed it in the tax bill and since they repealed it, it’s now legal for doctors to refuse to see patients.”

Oh man. I suddenly realized how uneducated people were on what the Obamacare individual mandate was. While I can’t blame him, as the topic is complicated, his view of it was far from accurate.

I attempted to explain to him what the individual mandate was; simply put: that Americans need to have health insurance or else pay a tax penalty. At the end of the discussion, he looked at me and said, “I think you are actually right,” and walked away. And that is where my idea for this post came about.

The mandate, in my opinion, was perhaps one of the worst parts of the ACA. It essentially was an unfair tax on 6.5 million Americans who did not have health insurance.

If it was so damaging, then why was it included in the first place?

The idea behind the mandate was to encourage people to enroll in Obamacare, hopefully resulting in more healthy Americans having health insurance and thus balancing the cost of the unhealthy Americans in the same insurance pool. It was seen as the key to making Obamacare work – as it encouraged a population who might not otherwise choose to spend their money on health insurance to spend it.

What happened instead was that the Americans who could not afford health insurance due to skyrocketing premiums were taxed by the IRS simply for not being able to afford insurance.

There is also the counterargument made by many left-leaning politicians that repealing the mandate would result in 13 million more people uninsured. Let’s dig a bit deeper into those numbers. First, not all of those people would be without any healthcare coverage because they are on Medicaid or they could get insurance from their employer. Additionally, other healthy people would then turn to the private marketplace for insurance. Of course, because of the rising premiums, many in this group would choose not to buy health insurance. But, this is a free country and Americans should have the liberty to spend their money how they want, even if that means gambling on the fact that they won’t need health insurance. This choice is just as much their right as it is for someone in Las Vegas to gamble their money at a casino. Removing the individual mandate does not force people to become uninsured, it simply gives them the freedom to choose such a life.

Ironically, while the individual mandate is one the most unpopular pieces of the ACA in the minds of conservatives, it was originally a conservative idea. Conservatives pushed for it in response to President Bill Clinton’s 1993 attempt at a health care plan and was a part of Governor Mitt Romney’s 2006 health plan for Massachusetts.

If you ask me, the individual mandate did not help anyone. The population of Americans that need the most assistance and financial support were the ones that were being hurt by this tax, only pushing them farther into a financial crisis.

The mandate was recently repealed by the GOP’s tax reform bill.

Repealing the mandate in no way, shape or form makes it legal for physicians to refuse health care services to people (as the stranger who approached me believed). All that repealing the mandate did was eliminate an unfair tax on Americans who could not afford health insurance.

The new tax bill, while repealing the individual mandate, still allows people to keep Obamacare if they wish. I could go on about the whats and whys of the tax bill but that is for another time and place.

The bottom line is the repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate stops the IRS’s unfair tax on millions of Americans. And in my opinion, that is a win for everyone.