|By Byron York; Byron York, Chief Political Correspondent|
The individual mandate, Obamacare's requirement that all Americans have health insurance that includes "minimum essential coverage," has been in effect for two weeks now. No one has noticed because nothing has happened. But it will.
The mandate is the heart of Obamacare; without it, supporters believe, the system won't work. So the Obama administration hopes millions of Americans will voluntarily comply with the mandate and purchase government-approved coverage. If they don't do it voluntarily, they'll be punished.
Starting next year, the government will collect a penalty -- the administration calls it a "shared responsibility payment" -- from Americans who don't go along with the Obamacare edict. The penalty starts small -- just
The threat of coercion lies behind the entire Obamacare scheme. The question for the coming year is, how coercive will the government be?
The Democrats who wrote the Affordable Care Act in 2009 gave the
"Although the Act provides that the
The main leverage the
In addition, that taxpayer might face a letter and a phone call - - or a series of them -- from the
Will the government really do that? The answer is not clear, or at least not publicly clear. (In response to inquiries,
Obamacare needs a lot of them to survive. In the last few months, discussion often focused on the prediction that the system needed to enroll seven million people by the time open enrollment is over at the end of March. But even if Obamacare reaches that goal -- and it's doubtful right now -- that is just the start. To work, Obamacare must keep growing. A lot.
"I think we're going to ultimately need about 20 million people for a sustainable pool," health care analyst
How does it get there? Well, if Obamacare is a great deal that millions of Americans love, it will reach the goal with no problem. If, on the other hand, it presents Americans with policies that don't fit their needs, are too expensive, have cripplingly high deductibles, and narrow choices of doctors -- well, many Americans will balk at buying such a product.
It's not that they will reject health coverage; it's that they'll reject health coverage that's a bad deal.
And if that happens, the question of 2015 will be how far the Obama administration will go to force Americans to buy policies they don't want. "The government will be hard-pressed to collect a fine on something lots of people don't believe has value," says Laszewski. "This is when it will become a huge political albatross."
Such a scenario could create enormous political pressure to scrap the individual mandate. And at that point, the future of Obamacare would be very much in doubt.
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