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Health Insurance Reform Daily Mythbuster: 'Requiring Health Insurance is a Tax on Americans'

Health insurance reform opponents continue to spread myths about components of America's Affordable Health Choices Act, including the notion that mandating people to get health insurance coverage is like imposing a new tax on them. 

MYTH: Mandating health insurance coverage is a new tax.

FACT: Not true. Fixing our health insurance system to ensure quality, affordable care - and to end an era where insurance companies can discriminate against you because you get sick - requires shared responsibility, on the part of individuals, employers and the government.

America's Affordable Health Choices Act makes this idea of shared responsibility work by making affordable insurance available to all, offering small businesses exemptions and tax credits, and offering Americans affordability credits based on income to help pay their premiums.  Furthermore, under the bill, there is a hardship exemption for those with circumstances that make no available insurance policies affordable.

A poll just released by Kaiser Family Foundation found that the American public strongly supports an individual mandate.  In the poll, 68 percent of Americans state that they support “requiring all Americans to have health insurance, with financial help for those who can't afford it.”

This coverage requirement is no different than states requiring drivers to purchase automobile insurance. Those who can afford to purchase health insurance and choose not to would be choosing not to comply with the law and would be subject to a penalty - much like those who choose to drive without insurance can be fined.

Right now, all insured Americans are paying a hidden health care tax to cover those who go without health insurance.  For example, if a person who hasn't purchased health insurance is hit by a car, all the rest of us pay for the health care they receive when they go to the hospital.  Indeed, the average insured American family of four pays more than $1,000 a year to cover the cost of health care for the more than 46 million people who - either by choice or necessity - have no insurance.

Without reform, health care costs are expected to increase for the average family by $1,800 each year - that annual increase alone is more than the penalty for not being insured for most Americans. 

Mandating health insurance coverage for individuals has been touted as an essential element of successful health reform by Republicans too: 

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa): “There isn't anything wrong with it [an individual mandate] … When it comes to states requiring it for automobile insurance, the principle then ought to lie the same way for health insurance, because everybody has some health care costs, and if you aren't insured, there's no free lunch.  Somebody else is paying for it.  So I think individual mandates are more apt to be accepted by a vast majority of people in Congress than an employer mandate.” [Fox News Sunday, 6/14/09]

Mitt Romney (Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate): “Get everyone insured. Help low-income households retain or purchase private insurance with a tax credit, voucher or coinsurance. Use the tens of billions we now give hospitals for free care to instead help people buy and keep their own private insurance. For the uninsured who can afford insurance but expect to be given free care at the hospital, require them to either pay for their own care or buy insurance; if they do neither, they would forgo the tax credit or lose a deduction. No more ‘free riders.' This is the basic plan I proposed in Massachusetts. It has worked…” [Newsweek, 5/18/09]

Bill Frist (Former Tennessee Senator and Senate Majority Leader): “We have 46 million people who don't have insurance out there. Somebody's going to have to pay for that.  If they can pay for it, they should be responsible to paying for it.” [Washington Independent, 9/15/09]

Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.): Republican Co-sponsors of Healthy Americans Act of 2009 (H.R. 1321) - which includes an individual mandate. [111th Congress]

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.): Republican co-sponsor or the Health Americans Act of 2007 (H.R. 6444) - which included an individual mandate. [110th Congress]

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Coverage for all is also an essential element of health care reform and I believe an enforceable and effective individual mandate, combined with guaranteed issuance of insurance, is the best way to accomplish this goal.” [Gov. Schwarzenegger letter to Congressional leaders, 7/31/09]