Heath Care: What is the Individual Mandate?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 22, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The major health care bill that passed in the House on Sunday, March 21, contains so much information that much of it is unclear to many of us. One controversial element of the bill is the "individual mandate," the requirement that everybody purchase health insurance. But what does "everybody" mean and what does "purchase" mean?

In most states, California for instance, everyone who drives is required to carry a minimum level of car insurance. Accidents do happen and they need to be paid for. The health care bill, through the individual mandate, will similarly require everyone to carry some form of health insurance; almost everyone gets sick or hurt at some point and it needs to be paid for. According to The Christian Science Monitor, most of us will be required to have insurance for ourselves and our dependants. If an individual can't get health care coverage the old-fashioned way (from an employer) they will be able to purchase insurance through exchanges. The bill contains a provision for government subsidies to help individuals with incomes of up to $88,000 afford insurance. Those with religious objections, Native Americans, illegal immigrants and prison inmates would be exempt from the mandate to purchase insurance. 

According to The Monitor, the mandate will be enforced by tax penalties. The uninsured would have to pay, beginning in 2014, $695 for each uninsured family member, up to a maximum of $2,085, or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is greater.

Since insurance companies will no longer be able to exclude those with pre-existing conditions, their costs will most likely go up. The universal requirement to purchase insurance will bring younger and healthier people (who until now may have gone without insurance) into the insurance pool. This may even out the costs to the companies, and possibly even to the consumers.

There will be legal challenges to the health care bill due to the mandate. Already, 12 states' attorneys general have claimed that Congress has over-stepped the boundaries of its power by requiring most citizens to purchase health insurance. But, like other struggles over an individual's right to do or not do something (public smoking laws, helmet laws, car insurance) it is a always a fight between the individual who wants to control his or her actions in a particular area and the rest of the individuals who have to pick up the tab. 

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