Contrasting Obamacare’s Individual Mandate with Ryan’s Proposed Medicare Reforms
5:22 PM, May 4, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
In what could be a sign of desperation on the part of opponents of the Paul Ryan’s budget, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein and Slate’s Simon Lazarus both argue that the House budget contains an Obamacare-like individual mandate that requires people to buy health insurance under penalty of law. The short and simple answer is: No, it doesn’t.
But Klein and Lazarus assert otherwise. They both start by conflating Ryan’s “Roadmap for America,” which also does not contain an individual mandate, with the House budget. Are Klein and Lazarus truly unaware that the Roadmap and the budget are two separate entities? In a post entitled, “The Ryan budget’s awkward embrace of the individual mandate,” Klein writes that the House budget actually contains two individual mandates. He then proceeds to describe the first:
“If you’re an individual who’s not covered by Medicare, you’re eligible for a tax credit up to $2,300 to purchase insurance. If you don’t purchase insurance, you get nothing. So, in practice, there’s a $2,300 penalty for not purchasing insurance. In essence, you’re giving the government $2,300, and you only get it back if you buy health-care insurance. It’s slightly more roundabout than an individual mandate, but it’s the same idea.”
By this logic, the child tax credit is likewise a federal requirement to have children. If you don’t have a child, you don’t get the tax break, and therefore you are required to have children — or so Klein’s logic would suggest. But there’s an additional problem with Klein’s argument: The House budget does not include any such $2,300 tax credit for people to purchase insurance; only the Roadmap does.
For his part, Lazarus goes so far in conflating Ryan’s Roadmap with the budget that he uses Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates for the former and applies them to the latter. In a post entitled, “Paul Ryan’s ‘Individual Mandate’” (subtitled, “The Ryan proposal compels Americans to buy insurance — just like ObamaCare does”), Lazarus lists the amount that seniors would receive under the Roadmap (about $6,000 for a 65-year-old and about $11,000 for the average senior) as the amount that they would receive under the House budget.
The CBO’s actual estimates for how much seniors would receive under the budget are about $8,000 for a 65-year-old and about $15,000 for the average senior, about 33 percent higher than Lazarus claims. Lazarus also incorrectly states that this assistance would come in the form of a voucher, when, as the CBO notes, the budget would provide seniors with direct premium support, not vouchers, to help them buy private health insurance. (Neither Klein nor Lazarus notes that Ryan’s proposed Medicare reforms would not affect anyone who is currently at least 55 years of age.)
Both writers proceed to assert that these proposed Medicare reforms — which Klein also incorrectly describes as being a voucher plan — include an individual mandate because, if seniors don’t use their premium support (not correctly identified as such) to purchase health insurance, then, as Klein puts it, they “forfeit” that money. True enough. But how does that constitute an individual mandate? No one is required to do anything in this scenario. If seniors choose not to use their premium support, that’s their choice — even though it’s a choice that almost no one would likely make.
Under Obamacare, meanwhile, every man, woman, and child in America would be required to purchase government-approved health insurance (or have it purchased on their behalf), whether they want it or not, under penalty of law — and they would be fined if they don’t.