As Congress and the White House continue to wrangle about the precise structure of the proposed health care overhaul, one question remains unanswered: will the final version of the reform include an individual mandate, a requirement that every citizen carry health care to prevent medical bankruptcies that drive up the overall cost of coverage?
The individual mandate provision has been the subject of a fair amount of debate in Washington, but ultimately hasn’t received an overwhelming amount of attention in the media. But it has been included in several of the competing plans floating through Congress right now, including the initial legislation put forth by Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.
In fact, Massachusetts already has an individual mandate in place. Essentially, the program requires that all citizens of the Commonwealth carry some form of minimal health coverage, either through a private insurer or through the state’s health insurance bureau. Those who do not are subject to tax penalties equal to 50% of the least expensive state plan for which they qualify.
However, legislators sought to avoid imposing fines on families and individuals who don’t carry health insurance because they simply can afford it. Accordingly, not all citizens are subject to the mandate. Children do not acquire penalties, nor do families or individuals who earn less than 150% of the federal poverty level. Those who are faced with tax penalties for not having health insurance pay anywhere from $210 up to $912 per year for the wealthiest in the state.
There are arguments to be made on both sides of the issue.
Opponents argue that people under the mandate would be deprived of the option of deciding whether or not to carry health insurance, and penalized if they decide not to.
But backers counter that the plan isn’t unlike a requirement placed on drivers to carry accident insurance.
The burden of the uninsured is one of the single biggest drains on the health care system, and one of the primary driving factors in the rising cost of healthcare (which has skyrocketed at more than twice the rate of inflation over the last ten years). When an uninsured individual gets injured or becomes sick, the treating hospital bills him or her directly. Without coverage from an insurance provider, the individual is forced to pay the bills out-of-pocket, forcing many to declare bankruptcy. Unable to collect, the hospital then eats the cost of the treatment, and raises the costs on everyone else to compensate for the loss.
Medical bankruptcy is probably more common than you think. Every 30 seconds, someone in this country files for medical bankruptcy. Since 2000, 5 million families in this country have filed for bankruptcy in the aftermath of serious medical problems, many of whom assumed that they'd be healthy enough to avoid needing to see a doctor. More than one out of every four homes that fall into foreclosure are brought about by an inability to pay for medical bills. It is the single most common cause of home foreclosure.
And those numbers have reverberations throughout the economy. When homes go into foreclosure, banks lose money on the loans they provided to the homebuyer. We all saw what happened late last year when banks ended up unable to collect on loan payouts.
The individual mandate would require that everyone carry some kind of minimal, catastrophic insurance aimed at preventing these kinds of unpayable medical bills when the unthinkable happens, from a split-second automobile accident to a previously undetected cancer.
What do you think of the individual mandate? Use the comment section to voice your opinion.