ObamaCare mandate says goodbye in 2019, as health law faces new threat
The Affordable Care Act will lose its teeth in 2019, as the penalty for not buying insurance disappears – leaving the health care law’s future as murky as ever.
On one hand, recently released enrollment numbers indicate the system may be able to survive the elimination of the so-called individual mandate penalty – which was stripped as part of last year’s tax overhaul.
While the requirement to buy insurance was considered a crucial part of the original law, enrollment dipped but did not dive in anticipation of that penalty disappearing. The official numbers show enrollment in the 39 states that use the federal exchange declined by 4.2 percent from last year – from roughly 8.8 million to 8.5 million.
“The funny aspect to the individual mandate is that it mostly was [threatening] to penalize people who were already going to buy insurance anyway,” said Robert Graboyes, a senior research fellow and health scholar at George Mason University’s libertarian-oriented Mercatus Center.
In other words, Graboyes said, the vast majority of people who signed up on the government-run portal did not need the threat of a penalty.
Meanwhile, many people who did not find ObamaCare to be a good deal skipped it and either paid the price or made an excuse. Figures from the Internal Revenue Service show that 4.1 million taxpayers in 2017 paid the penalty for not having insurance in 2016. The federal government collected $2.9 billion in revenue from those taxpayers. Another 10.8 million taxpayers claimed one of many hardship exemptions.
Yet experts said the elimination of the penalty is just one of many factors driving an enrollment decline.
The big question going into 2019 and beyond will be whether that slide will continue, and whether the system will continue to take on sicker customers while losing the young and healthy – creating an imbalance that would threaten higher prices. Add to the mix a recent court ruling against the law, and ObamaCare continues to take hits despite Republicans’ repeated failure to repeal it.