July 07--A Reading man who sued the Bay State for hitting him with fines when he failed to get health insurance under former Gov. Mitt Romney's reform law predicted yesterday that Obamacare will prompt a tsunami of similar lawsuits.
"I hope as a country the people who disagree with it have enough of a spine to stand up against it," said Michael Merlina, a glass cutter who became the poster boy of opposition to the so-called individual mandate. "It's easy to roll over and pay, but it's not who we are."
The individual mandate has roared back into the headlines this week as Romney called it a tax -- even though his law imposed a similar fee on Massachusetts residents, a fee his campaign still insists on calling a penalty.
While the number of people fined for failing to pay for private insurance has decreased since Romneycare went into effect in 2007, the state has approved a larger percentage of appeals, where the fines are reduced or waived. For example, 44 percent of appeals were approved in 2008, while 80 percent were approved in 2010, according to information from the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector.
"The most likely explanation is that it is a reflection of the economy. Our main goal in health reform has been to insure people, not penalize them," said Richard Powers, spokesman for the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector.
Merlina was handed a $2,000 fine in 2008 for failing to have health insurance, and after his appeal was denied he took the matter to court.
"This is the whole thing -- they're trying to sweep all this under the rug and all of a sudden, boom, it's a law and no one knows about it and you suddenly have a bill in the mail," he said.
He eventually got his fine reduced to about $1,300 after the court sent the issue back to the state, but Merlina said the issue rests on principle.
"If they can force us to buy insurance, they can force us to buy anything," he said. "Where is the line drawn?"
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