By John McClaughry
The Vermont House has passed — with no apparent opposition — a bill (H.696) to mandate that “applicable individuals” purchase Obamacare health insurance or suffer penalties. “Applicable individuals” means every individual, not otherwise enrolled in employer sponsored insurance, or Medicare and Medicaid, excepting illegal aliens, persons incarcerated and persons claiming a religious exemption. The penalty would take effect in 2019.
The rationale for this new mandate is that, starting in 2019, Congress reduced to zero the tax penalty imposed by the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) for not choosing to buy ObamaCare-approved health insurance. Now, with no price to pay for not buying benefit-rich plans, some, perhaps many, young, healthy “applicable individuals” will choose not to do so.
Since 1991 state policy has been to load onto young people the medical expenses of their much older parents and grandparents. This is so despite the fact that it’s a “reverse Robin Hood” requirement. Young people, just starting out with their careers, starting families, and perhaps paying off college debts and buying a home, are far less able to pay for their older, sicker, but richer parents and grandparents.
Legislators are worried that without the threat of an Obamacare-type penalty, some of these young, healthy people will escape the state’s clutches. Hence the new mandate.
The bill declares the penalties, but doesn’t dare to say what they’ll be. It creates a working group to design the penalties, which will presumably be written into law next year.
Let’s get real here. Just what penalty is the state going to impose on someone who doesn’t buy overpriced state-approved health insurance? This has been addressed before. It was a central part of the Health Security Act, promoted but not enacted in the 2005 Legislature (At least the promoters of that bill had the courage to actually declare the penalties).
Here’s what those penalties were to be: “Individuals who are not otherwise covered, and who refuse to participate in the Plan, will be sanctioned by some combination of denial of motor vehicle registration, drivers’ license, homestead property tax exemption, hunting and fishing licenses, and enrollment in any school or college in the state.”
Add to that a straight-out tax or fine, as in Obamacare, loss of your income tax exemption, confiscation of your income tax refund, garnishing of your wages, and maybe, for particularly defiant behavior, a trip to the correctional center, and you have the full panoply of state power over the liberty of Vermonters.
What is really scandalous is that this bill passed the House without opposition. The bill is now in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, whose chairwoman, Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, is on record in favor of the idea. Let’s hope there are enough senators concerned about preserving our liberties to reject this latest Big Government assault weapon.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. This commentary first appeared March 27 in the Burlington Free Press.