The individual mandate that became the centre of the Obamacare arguments at the Supreme Court this week would end up affecting only 3 per cent of the non-elderly U.S. population, according to a new study released this week.The Urban Institute, a non-partisan economic and social policy research organisation, performed the study using a simulation model.
“I think the misperception has gotten terrible,” Linda Blumberg, one of the author’s of the study, told Business Insider in a phone interview. “I think there’s been an enormous amount of disinformation that has been spread through a lot of non-traditional journalistic outlets. I think it’s very politically driven.”
The key result of the Urban Institute’s simulation model is that, when broken down, only 3 per cent of non-elderly Americans would be subject to purchasing health insurance. That’s still about 7.3 million Americans, according to the study. But it signals far less government control than opponents of the healthcare plan suggest could occur.
The remaining 97 per cent would fall under one of four fully or partially exempt categories. The exempt would either already have employer coverage, have coverage through a government program like Medicaid, or have too low of an income to afford health insurance. Or they could qualify for partial subsidies in which they would pay in to their health plan.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday wrapped up three days of debate related to the constitutionality of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The central challenge to the law’s full implementation in 2014 centered around the constitutionality of the U.S. government to mandate citizens to purchase health insurance or face paying a “fine” or “tax,” two words that have been used interchangeably this week depending on the side from which they come.
The Urban Institute’s study backs the Obama administration’s arguments that not only would the government not force a large number of people to purchase health insurance, but it also would help induce competition and manageable pricing in the health insurance industry.
Blumberg, one of the study’s authors, explained that the purpose of the individual mandate is not to force something upon a large group of citizens that they are not already doing — purchasing health insurance. Rather, the effect of the mandate is to create more stability in the insurance markets.
The mandate, Blumberg said, helps to hold up the other provisions of the Affordable Care Act. This includes the clauses that require insurance companies to not discriminate against people with preexisting conditions and places caps on insurance premiums.
“The mandate is there in order to create stable markets that can be accessible to everybody,” Blumberg said. “It’s very difficult to do these consumer protections and make sure everybody has access to adequate coverage whether they’re sick or not unless we have a way of creating incentives for the healthy to stay in.”
In the Supreme Court’s arguments Tuesday, the justices dissected the mandate with scepticism. It led to many people questioning whether the law would be struck down, as legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN that the day was a “train wreck for the Obama administration.”
On Wednesday, Toobin said the “train wreck” was more like a “plane wreck” as the court argued whether the individual mandate would be severable and struck down separately from the rest of the law. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the key swing vote in what happens with the law, took a critical tone when questioning Obama administration lawyer and U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.
But Blumberg said the mandate has become the fodder for partisan political bickering. And it has created a false sense of the mandate’s potential to incite government overreach.
“I really do feel that has been lost by, from my perspective, overly politicized conversation about the federal government coming in to take over your lives,” she said. “Well, no. The federal government is coming in to create insurance markets that function for people of all health status.”
Listen below to Justice Sotomayor going after Paul Clement, the attorney representing 26 states opposing the 2010 law:
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