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At Law
The National Individual Health Insurance Mandate

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed into law the nation’s first comprehensive health care reform bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Within weeks, twenty states filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of its most politically charged feature—an individual purchase mandate. By 2014, the bill requires most individuals to have health insurance. With certain exceptions (pertaining to income level and religious objections), individuals without qualifying coverage will pay an annual tax penalty reaching the greater of $695 ($2,085 per family maximum) or 2.5 percent of household income.

If anything, the tax penalty is too low compared with the cost of insurance, so it may not provide sufficient incentive for healthy individuals to purchase insurance. But it remains controversial because it compels people to purchase coverage they choose not to have, raising the question whether Congress can lawfully and ethically require individuals to contract with, and transfer money to, a private party. 

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed into law the nation’s first comprehensive health care reform bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Within weeks, twenty states filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of its most politically charged feature—an individual purchase mandate. By 2014, the bill requires most individuals to have health insurance. With certain exceptions (pertaining to income level and religious objections), individuals without qualifying coverage will pay an annual tax penalty reaching the greater of $695 ($2,085 per family maximum) or 2.5 percent of household income.

If anything, the tax penalty is too low compared with the cost of insurance, so it may not provide sufficient incentive for healthy individuals to purchase insurance. But it remains controversial because it compels people to purchase coverage they choose not to have, raising the question whether Congress can lawfully and ethically require individuals to contract with, and transfer money to, a private party. 

Lawrence O. Gostin, "The National Individual Health Insurance Mandate," Hastings Center Report 40, no. 5 (2010): 8-9.