CASPER, Wyo. — Staring in January, the Affordable Care Act will require most Americans to have health insurance. Those who don’t will pay a penalty that starts at $95 per adult, or 1 percent of their family income, whichever is greater.
The penalty will grow to $325 per adult or 2 percent of family income in 2015. The following year a person without health insurance will face a penalty of $695, or 2.5 percent of family income.
Several groups will be exempt, including certain American Indians, people whose incomes are so low they don’t need to file income taxes, and those whose insurance premiums would exceed a certain percentage of their income. Others will receive exemptions because of religious beliefs, or for hardships. The latter will include people who would have been eligible for expanded Medicaid coverage, had Wyoming lawmakers not rejected the plan.
The Congressional Budget Office last year estimated 6 million Americans will pay a penalty because they’re uninsured in 2016, which would amount to about $7 billion in fines.
The individual mandate, which survived a U.S. Supreme Court challenge last year, remains the most unpopular part of the health reform law. Less than a third of Americans have a favorable view of the mandate, according to a 2012 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll.
The mandate is intended to support another Obamacare provision that prevents insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing medical conditions. Without the mandate, the rule would allow people to wait until they become sick to buy coverage. With fewer healthy people in the system, companies would have to raise premiums on those who are left. That would drive away even more people until the system finally collapses.