The “Affordable Care Act:” not a mandate?

That is the odd conclusion of Andrew Sabl, writing at “The Reality-Based Community.” Reality-based. As in: I just watched “Chipmunks: The Squeakual” with my two younger boys. It features talking, singing, dancing, remote-controlled-helicopter flying chipmunks, which means it’s only based on reality.

Andrew starts off with his dismay at the phrase “individual mandate.”

The phrase “individual mandate,” though it explained to wonks how we were going to achieve near-universal coverage, was always bound to make for atrocious framing. Pairing it with a subsidy is great policy but possibly even worse framing. Now one thing people don’t like–being told by the government what to do–is supposed to be made better by another thing they don’t like–admitting they need government help.

No argument there. It’s a bad idea all around. Next (emphasis his):

Here is another way of describing ACA that’s completely accurate but explains the point much better:

If you or your family aren’t getting health insurance through your job, the government will pay to get you private insurance coverage, just as an employer would. You’ll have to contribute something–but the law guarantees, with specific numbers, that it will be no more than you can afford. … The government will still pay for your insurance, with the same affordable contribution from you.”

Hmm. Seems like he’s left something out, there.

The bill has lots more–things that make it even better.

Ah, here it comes.

But that, it seems to me, is the basic idea.

He’s gonna think of it any second now (my emphasis coming up):

And if we drill it in, people (Fox News junkies aside) will stop imagining that the bill is somehow about government telling people without insurance that they have to get it because the government won’t help them. It’s the opposite. Under ACA, it’s the government’s job to get you insurance, and to pay for almost all of it if you can’t afford it. Before, you were on your own.

No, Andrew! Oh, you were so close!

The objection to the mandate — and, yes, it is a mandate — is that everyone has to buy the insurance. Must. It’s not who’s paying for the insurance. That’s not the problem except, possibly, in a way entirely counter to the way you’ve put it: believe it or not, a lot of people don’t want the government buying them things.

You cannot refuse to buy. How can you pretend to address this issue without including that? If you do refuse…well, the IRS is going to hire a five-digit-number’s worth of new agents to enforce it. You’re going to screw around with that?

What if you don’t pay the fines? What if you refuse to buy, and refuse to pay? The IRS — they’re real forgiving about that kind of thing. Liens. Garnished wages. Seized property. Court dates. Jail time.

That’s what happens when you don’t pay your taxes. This is indistinguishable from a tax.

Andrew finishes up:

Objections? Can we sink the “mandate” language once and for all?

Sure. Just as soon as it’s not a mandate.

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