Very few would pay penalty for going without health insurance

The Affordable Care Act, recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, includes a number of provisions to help people access health care. It allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance longer, prevents insurers from turning away those with pre-existing conditions, provides tax credits to make insurance more affordable, sets up a health insurance exchange to make it easier to find the right coverage and much more.

However, it also asks Americans to take responsibility for getting health insurance, and some people will face a penalty if they fail to do so. This penalty may be one of the most misunderstood provisions of the health care reform law.

Only 1.2 percent of Americans are expected to pay the penalty for not having insurance, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It’s a pretty small number once you subtract people who are exempt from the requirement, people who already have insurance, and those who are likely to get insurance thanks to provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The Urban Institute estimates that over a third of non-elderly Americans aren’t subject to the insurance mandate’s penalty because they have low incomes, affordable health care is not available to them, they belong to certain religious groups, or other reasons.

Another reason why so few people will face the penalty is that a majority of those subject to the requirement already have health care. And a substantial number of those who currently are uninsured will likely become insured, either through public health care or because the Affordable Care Act provides them or their employers with tax credits to help them afford coverage that previously had been out of reach.

Requiring people to take responsibility for having insurance coverage is a reasonable ask. Everyone wants to be healthy – and many of us are – but an unexpected health crisis can strike anyone at any time. When it does, those without insurance may not get the care they need, or could face crushing medical debt. The good news is that the Affordable Care Act will help many Minnesotans who currently don’t have insurance, or who have inadequate insurance, finally have peace of mind.

-Nan Madden

P.S. If you count on Minnesota Budget Bites to give you timely information about current policy issues, we’re counting on you. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to the Minnesota Budget Project during our Fight for our Future campaign.

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