Debate goes on about what to call health care insurance noncompliance payment

Democrats, Republicans are squirming over how to define noncompliance penalty for universal-coverage health plan.
By CALVIN WOODWARD Published: July 4, 2012
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“This is a penalty on free riders,” echoed Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Just as everyone loves motherhood and apple pie, no one loves a free rider. Not Democrats. And not Republicans. But Democrats didn't make that up.

Some years back, Romney called his own thing a penalty on “free riders.”

Whatever-it-is starts in 2014, will be collected by the Internal Revenue Service and functions like a tax in that its amount is keyed to the income of those who must pay it.

The Obama administration always shied away from calling it a tax for the obvious reason that tax increases are political trouble. Paradoxically, his health care law only stands today because the high court considered the insurance mandate part of Congress' broad powers of taxation, therefore constitutional.

The court carefully parsed all of this in a migraine-inducing summary of Chief Justice John Roberts' written decision.

“The Affordable Care Act describes the ‘shared responsibility payment' as a ‘penalty,' not a ‘tax,'” it says. “That label is fatal to the application of the Anti-Injunction Act. It does not, however, control whether an exaction is within Congress' power to tax. In answering that constitutional question, this Court follows a functional approach, ‘disregarding the designation of the exaction, and viewing its substance and application.'”

In other words, the thing is a tax.