Three states had ballot initiatives this week that attempted to outlaw the mandate in the PPACA that requires everyone to have health insurance starting in 2014. Colorado was the only state that did not approve the measure. Voters in Colorado defeated Amendment 63, which would have made it illegal for the state of Colorado to force people to buy health insurance. Even if it had been approved by voters, it would have been a symbolic measure, as the mandate requiring all of us to have health insurance coverage as of 2014 is a federal law, and thus supersedes state laws.
The Amendment 63 website includes a YouTube video of a rather misleading campaign commercial. The 30 second ad shows three animated characters sitting in a jail cell. Two of the men are burly and tough-looking, and the third is a smaller man wearing glasses and looking quite uncomfortable. The first two note that they are in jail for murder and aggravated assault, and the third man says that he’s in jail for “not buying the exact health insurance plan congress mandated.”
Commercials like that are fear-mongering tactics that many political interest groups use, but are based on outright lies or half truths. This video appears to have been promoted by the Independence Institute (youtube channel and website). FactCheck.org has a good explanation for anyone who is confused about whether or not they could actually end up in jail for defying the mandate. The penalty for not having health insurance as of 2014 will be a financial one (some call it a penalty, some call it a tax). It will be enforced by the IRS, and we all know that tax-evaders can and do face steep fines and possible jail time. But the lawmakers who were crafting the PPACA were probably well aware that if they allowed the penalty/tax for not having health insurance to be enforced in the same manner as the rest of the IRS regulations, they would be met with critics who would say that in a round about way, failure to have health insurance could result in jail time. So they added language to the final bill that would specifically avoid such a controversy (see page 131):
‘‘(A) WAIVER OF CRIMINAL PENALTIES.—In the case of any failure by a taxpayer to timely pay any penalty imposed by this section, such taxpayer shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty with respect to such failure.
(B) LIMITATIONS ON LIENS AND LEVIES.—The Secretary shall not—
(i) file notice of lien with respect to any property of a taxpayer by reason of any failure to pay the penalty imposed by thissection or
(ii) levy on any such property with respect to such failure.’’.