Hold The Applause On The Mandate

Chief Justice John Roberts put his money where his mouth is in his opinion on NFIB v. Sebellius. In consistently holding that it is the job of the Court to save unconstitutional legislation through the use of disciplined jurisprudence, he can preserve his credibility as a jurist who defends both originalism and the will of the people. Roberts clearly preserved the individual mandate, taking a stand on the Obama Administration’s fallback position; that the mandate, enforceable as a non-punitive tax, was clearly within Congress’ authority to lay and collect taxes.

But for liberals, that is where the celebration must end. The Court’s holding that states may opt out from the Medicaid expansion creates a potentially larger pool of individuals who will some day be faced with the penalty. It also serves to exacerbate the problem of coverage facing many predominately red states; states with low private coverage rates currently paired with stiff Medicaid participation requirements. And make no mistake, the pairing of the state opt-out ability with the finding that the mandate is only constitutional as a tax, creates a political double jeopardy for this election campaign. This election campaign, by the way, is what really matters for the future of medical coverage in America.

The only thing worse for the liberal campaign in 2012 than an individual mandate, is an individual mandate that is really a tax. If you follow The Rational Middle, you know that the numbers should matter; if you follow today’s political media, you know that the numbers rarely do matter. In Campaign 2012 and with the individual mandate, it is the numbers nobody knows that will matter most. We know now that if you don’t have some form of insurance on January 1, 2014, you will have to pay a penalty with your normal income tax payment…unless you fit into one of these categories:

  • individuals with a religious conscience exemption (applies only to certain faiths);
  • incarcerated individuals;
  • undocumented aliens;
  • individuals who cannot afford coverage (i.e. required contribution exceeds 8% of household income);
  • individuals with a coverage gap of less than 3 months;
  • individuals in a hardship situation (as defined by the Secretary of Dept. of Health & Human Services (HHS));
  • individuals with income below the tax filing threshold; and
  • members of Indian tribes.

And the amount that the mandate charges?

  • $95 in 2014
  • $325 in 2015
  • $695 in 2016

After 2016, the amount is indexed to the consumer price index. About 15% of Americans don’t have health insurance, a number that will go down as the full effect of the law takes hold. (As an example, insurers set sales records to small business in the early months of implementation as tax credits for those firms came on line.) Many others who don’t obtain insurance will fit into one of the categories above. Which leaves, in all probability, less than 15 million Americans choosing not to get insurance and being subject to the penalty.

Not exactly the “largest tax increase in American history” that Rush Limbaugh breathlessly labeled it today. But when have the facts of health care ever mattered? Most liberals today…that is liberals…don’t know the details of the law, its implementation timeline, or the full scope of its benefits. Most Americans today believe what the mainstream media tell them about the law; that it was unpopular (its provisions always polled above 50%, and its overall polling was held under 50% by liberals who felt it didn’t go far enough), and that it is expensive (it clearly lowers the deficit).

Liberals, to include anyone running for the House or Senate this term, need to be fighting for their jobs on the strength of this law, instead of running away from it. Liberals in social media need to embrace the phrase ObamaCare, instead of seeding another name to the control of the GOP in the branding war. Finally, Liberals need to keep their celebrations short and contained, because if Campaign 2012 doesn’t reelect President Obama, regain the House, and preserve the Senate majority, this SCOTUS decision won’t be worth the paper it is printed on.