Newspeak on the Individual Mandate

Andrew Sabl at Same Facts has posted a brief argument as to why the individual mandate in Obamacare isn’t really a mandate. It’s because, um, er, well, mandate doesn’t sound very good politically, does it? Or something:

“If you or your family aren’t getting health insurance through your job, the government will pay to get you private insurance coverage, just as an employer would.  You’ll have to contribute something—but the law guarantees, with specific numbers, that it will be no more than you can afford. It’ll be less than three percent of your paycheck if your family makes $33,000 a year, less than ten percent if you make as much as $88,000.  Pre-existing conditions won’t matter.  The government will still pay for your insurance, with the same affordable contribution from you.”

The bill has lots more—things that make it even better.  But that, it seems to me, is the basic idea.  And if we drill it in, people (Fox News junkies aside) will stop imagining that the bill is somehow about government telling people without insurance that they have to get it because the government won’t help them.


Can we sink the “mandate” language once and for all?  And can anyone explain to me whether (or why) anybody ever though “individual mandate” sounded good politically?

Gee, that sounds nice. It’s not a mandate, it’s the government paying for insurance if your employer doesn’t. It’s not about the government telling you that you have to have insurance at all.

Oh, except for that pesky fine that you’ll have to pay if you don’t have any insurance at all. Because a getting fined for not doing something certainly isn’t the same as the government requiring you do to it.

Is this really what passes for high logic on the left?

Dennis the Peasant, and actual CPA who appears to have real knowledge of how Obamacare will take effect, pwnxorz Sabl on some of his off assumptions and doublethink.

First of all, the government isn’t paying anyone to get private health insurance coverage. What the government is doing is offering a refundable tax credit to those who must purchase health insurance coverage themselves. Sec. 1401 of H.R. 3590 modifies chapter 1, subchapter A, part IV, subpart C of the 1986 Internal Revenue Code by inserting sec. 36B. What is sec. 36B, you ask?

It is a refundable tax credit for coverage under a qualified health plan.

A refundable tax credit is just that; a refundable tax credit. It is not payment assistance, and never will be.


Secondly, Andrew seems to be a tad confused about just how much folks are going to be paying out-of-pocket for their health insurance coverage. Here’s what sec. 36B says:

“In the case of an applicable taxpayer, there shall be allowed as a credit against the tax imposed by this subtitle for any taxable year an amount equal to the premium assistance credit amount of the taxpayer for the taxable year.”

So what you get is refundable tax credit that is equal to a calculated amount known as the premium assistance credit amount. Roughly, the premium assistance credit amount is equal to the lesser of any of the following amounts:

  1. The cost of a health insurance plan offered under the applicable state exchange, or
  2. The cost of the second lowest cost silver plan available to the taxpayer, or
  3. An amount arrived at by multiplying a pre-determined percentage between 2.8% and 9.8% of either (a) the taxpayer’s household income in excess of 100% of the applicable poverty line, or (b) 200% of the applicable poverty line.

Left Coast Rebel also takes Sabl apart:

Here is my own little description that accurately describes the individual mandate. Unlike Mr. Sabl, it accurately depicts the government mandate:

The individual mandate is nothing more than a tax on those who don’t have health insurance. Government is packaging this policy with subsidies so that you think it’s free or cheap or benevolent. In reality, you will be forced to buy health insurance even if you don’t want it or can’t afford it. You will be required to pay at least 3-10% of the costs if you make under $88,000 or you will be fined or jailed. If you had that to spare, you probably would already have bought health insurance. It’s a tax, because the majority of people who will be forced to buy insurance through the mandate (the young) will not redeem the cost in return for services from their doctor. Thus the uninsured are being forced to pay for something that they do not need or use. If it’s not a tax, why is the IRS enforcing the mandate?

And Professor Bainbridge has his turn as well:

This is just nonsense on stilts. Set aside the question of whether an insurance policy costing up to 10% of your income is “affordable.” If the government orders you to buy X, it is still a mandate even if the government pays part of the cost. “To mandate something means to make it mandatory.” The fact that part of the cost of the mandate will be picked up doesn’t change the mandatory nature of the obligation.

Compare the terminology used when the federal government mandates that states provide certain benefits. This is an example of the well-known (although actually rare) “unfunded mandate.” When the federal government pays part of the cost of providing the benefit, that’s called a partially funded mandate. See, e.g., Edward A. Zelinsky, Unfunded Mandates, Hidden Taxation, and the Tenth Amendment: On Public Choice, Public Interest, and Public Services, 46 VAND.L.REV. 1355, 1378 (1993). And it’s still a mandate.

This is a very common tactic among the left: if something isn’t popular, change the terms used to describe it and pretend its something else. Changing terms doesn’t change policy, and redefining words does not change reality. But socialist theories are not supported by real world evidence, so the only way to support them is to attempt to redefine reality to fit the theories.


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  1. #1 by left coast rebel on Thu 01 Apr 2010 - 13:12

    Thanks for the trackback!

    • #2 by The Republican Heretic on Thu 01 Apr 2010 - 13:15

      Hey, don’t credit me for that. Credit yourself for having posts worth trackbacking (tracking back? Hrm.)

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