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Health Insurance Reform Daily Mythbuster: 'Reform Could Mean Jail Time for Americans Who Don't Buy Insurance'

As debate heats up on the House floor on historic health insurance reform, House Republicans are pulling out all the stops to scare the American public about the Affordable Health Care for America Act, including speeches today saying that Americans who don't buy health insurance could face jail time.   Below are the facts.

MYTH:  “Reform Could Mean Jail Time for Americans Who Don't Buy Insurance”

FACT:  Reform includes a shared responsibility requirement, for those who don't already have insurance to either purchase affordable health insurance or pay a fee of 2.5 percent of their income so they are not driving up everyone else's health costs.

Under the bill, the only people who would face the fee for not purchasing insurance are those who can truly afford to purchase such insurance.

For those who can afford insurance but for some reason do not purchase it, they simply pay the fee - a fee designed to cover their costs when they use the health care system.  For a small number of people who might refuse to pay the fee, it is important to remember that, in the majority of cases, the IRS - which will enforce the insurance requirement - uses the CIVIL process to settle delinquent penalties and taxes.  

It would only be in extremely rare circumstances that criminal prosecutions of any kind would be pursued.  Indeed, in 2008, there were 156 million individual tax returns filed in the United States.  Out of all of those 156 million returns, there were only 100 criminal prosecutions for willful failure to pay taxes - and only for the most egregious examples of those who willfully defraud the system.

Finally, our bill is designed to ensure that the shared responsibility requirement is never imposed on those who cannot afford to purchase health insurance.  Some of the key provisions are:

  • Under our bill, there are generous affordability credits to help people purchase health insurance on the Health Insurance Exchange - with the credits on a sliding scale according to someone's income.
  • There is a hardship exemption for those who cannot afford insurance even with affordability credits.
  • The lowest-income Americans will actually qualify for Medicaid.