The GOP's health care plan penalizes you for not having coverage — sound familiar?


The Republicans' newly unveiled plan to replace the Affordable Care Act contains a provision that forces people in the individual market to pay a penalty for not having health insurance.

If that has a familiar ring, if it sounds like a mandate for individuals to have insurance, that might be because it kind of is. You could even call it an individual mandate. 

Under the new plan, if a person in the individual market has a gap in coverage of more than two months and tries to buy health insurance, an insurer can "increase the monthly premium rate otherwise applicable to such individual for such coverage" by as much as 30%.

During debates over the ACA and long after its actual passage, Republicans lodged a nonstop barrage of attacks against the health care law's individual mandate. GOP members of Congress routinely decried the unfair government intrusion on the lives of Americans that came with penalizing people for not purchasing health care. The constitutionality of the individual mandate was the centerpiece of their Supreme Court challenge to the law.

The new Republican plan to repeal, recycle and reuse elements of the ACA isn't exactly the same as the individual mandate, but it's close. Instead of facing a tax penalty for not having insurance coverage, the Republican proposal allows insurers to charge you more for health care. Think of it as a tax penalty for not having insurance, but instead of putting the money from that penalty into federal coffers, it ends up in the deep pockets of insurance companies.

The plan is also no less onerous than the individual mandate. In fact, people who don't have insurance may end up paying more.

Under the ACA's individual mandate, the maximum tax penalty for a family without health insurance was $2,085.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the average annual premium for a family in the individual market was $18,142 in 2016. That means if that same family fails to obtain coverage under the new Republican plan, that family would pay an extra $5,442.60.

In other words, the letter of the individual mandate is gone, but the spirit of the rule still exists. The penalty for not having insurance will persist — albeit with insurance companies gaining the lion's share of the benefit from it, and making a pretty penny more than the federal government ever did.