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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The new death panels: "Buy insurance or go to jail"

by folkbum

The brain-challenged on the right have taken this Politico story and gone haywire:
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) received a handwritten note Thursday from Joint Committee on Taxation Chief of Staff Tom Barthold confirming the penalty for failing to pay the up to $1,900 fee for not buying health insurance.

Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and could face up to a year in jail or a $25,000 penalty, Barthold wrote on JCT letterhead. He signed it "Sincerely, Thomas A. Barthold."
Some context: The Senate Finance Committee's bill (or the "Baucus bill" as some are calling it), imposes an individual mandate on people to buy insurance if they don't get it from work or a government program like Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, or, in Wisconsin, BadgerCare+. This fine is small for poor people, and capped at $1,500 for wealthy people ($3,800 for families) (and no, I don't know where $1,900 came from, because I'm looking at page 29 of the Baucus bill (pdf) and it clearly says $1,500), and assessed as a tax penalty via your return filed with the IRS.

In a hearing this week, Ensign demanded to know what would happen to people who don't pay their penalty. It seems obvious to me--if you don't pay your taxes, there's a law for that already, right? Apparently Ensign is too lazy or too stupid to look up what that penalty is. It took me about four seconds on google; it turns out there's a section of the tax code--and this is existing law, mind you, not some provision wedged into the pages of a new health care bill--titled "Willful failure to file return, supply information, or pay tax" that spells out the exact penalties Barthold explained in his note.

In other words, the Baucus bill says, buy health insurance or pay a fine on your taxes. (The House bill, HR 3200, has a similiar provision, but at a smaller amount.) The tax guy says, pay your taxes or go to jail.

For the wingnutoverse, they of the "death panels" and "private health insurance will be outlawed" and whatever other lies they hope the people are gullible enough to swallow, this has become "buy insurance or go to jail." Which is, of course, not true. However, I think we've seen pretty clearly that these people have even less regard for the truth than they do a sense of shame, so we should not be surprised that they're willing to spout the lie.

Now you may not believe me, since "buy insurance or go to jail" is so obviously, head-slappingly wrong that no one could be so stupid. But just check out our local wingnuts. Here's Peter "I'd put a bounty on Obama's melon" DiGaudio: "Refuse To Buy Health Insurance? Go To Jail." Peter has declined to publish my rebuttal comments.

Or Fred "watermelon seeds" Dooley: "And if you don't buy health insurance? Go to jail."

Kathy "apparently smart enough to get elected" Carpenter: "No healthcare, go to jail [. . .] You guys think I am goofing around here, but I am not."

The Asian Badger calls it "fascism," demonstrating that he clearly doesn't know what that word means.

Okay, you may be saying, those are the certifiably crazy local wingnuts. What about the sane ones? The normal ones? The ones who usually demonstrate reading comprehension and don't go off half-cocked? They needed more cocking on this one, too. Owen Robinson: "Obamacare will force people to buy health insurance or go to jail." Kevin Binversie: "[F]ailure to purchase health insurance under the proposed Senate bill will warrant those who are in non-compliance (as deemed by the IRS) with either a year in jail or a fine of $25,000."

(You can see the national crazies spouting the lies by following the links to the stupid from memeorandum. Even ABC News's "The Note" headlines the story "Buy Insurance or Go to Jail?" hoping, perhaps, that the question mark saves them. Ugh.)

Look, I'm not a fan of the individual mandate in the Baucus bill or in HR3200. It ends up being a corporate giveaway (hey, look, 40 thousand new paying customers!) to the insurance companies, as individual policies are always more expensive than group policies employers can buy. It's even worse in the Baucus bill because his bill lacks a public option, meaning individuals won't have the choice of a low-cost but high-quality plan like that offered for purchase from the government in HR3200.

But there are cost advantages to risk-pooling, and if a fine now helps pay for the cost to taxpayers of your emergency room visit later after you get hit by a bus, then, well, that's something. For my money, I'd much rather forgo the individual mandate entirely, unless we went with something like the Wyden plan which eliminates all employer-provided insurance entirely.

However, as I have been arguing all freaking year now, if you have legitimate concerns about the proposals to reform health care, talk about those. It doesn't serve any good purpose to just make stuff up--like "buy insurance or go to jail"--since we can't debate fantasy.

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