|By Byron York; Byron York, Chief Political Correspondent|
The Obama administration is trying to persuade millions of uninterested, or perhaps reluctant, Americans to purchase health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges. But the heart of Obamacare is coercion. If Americans fail do what the law's Democratic authors believe is best, the federal government will punish them, through the progressively higher penalties of the individual mandate, until it hurts more not to buy coverage than it does to give up and purchase it.
But what if many of those Americans rebel? Even if they know having health insurance is better than not having it, what if they refuse to be forced to buy the kind of coverage dictated by the government -- which may not really meet their needs -- at prices they don't want to pay? What then?
"I don't think Obamacare can survive without people wanting to buy it,"
Of course, that's exactly what the strategy is. Democrats designed the penalty for not having "minimum essential coverage" to start low and increase rapidly. For this year, according to a chart prepared by the
In the second year, the penalty will rise dramatically, to
But Democrats in
"In the first year, the mandate is useless," said Laszewski. "One percent isn't strong enough. The
As Laszewski sees it, the mandate could become extremely unpopular -- it's already by far the least popular part of Obamacare -- if policies are not what the public wants to buy. Who would want to be forced to buy something he or she doesn't want? That something is not insurance itself -- it is insurance that is ill-fitting and overpriced. "The problem is that the government will be hard pressed to collect a fine on something lots of people don't believe has value," Laszewski said. "This is when it will become a huge political albatross. At the core Obamacare is not sustainable, and the mandate/fine is not politically sustainable, if there are lots of middle class people who see Obamacare as a poor value."
I got in touch with Laszewski after reading an interview he did with
Of course, the individual mandate forces people to buy coverage whether it meets their needs or not. And Laszewski sees a real possibility that it won't work. If enough dissatisfied Americans simply don't buy the product, he said, that would create political momentum "to get rid of the mandate/fine -- which is effectively the same thing as getting rid of Obamacare." And if that happens, the American health system will be in entirely uncharted territory.
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