Sen. Tom Coburn caused a stir when he recently suggested that Fox News had spread the falsehood that you could go to jail under Obamacare for not buying insurance. Bill O'Reilly said this week when he interviewed Coburn: "We researched to find out if anybody on Fox News had ever said you're going to jail if you don't buy health insurance. Nobody's ever said it."
But a number of people on Fox News had in fact said it, as you can see here in this video. The New Republic's Jonathan Chait sees this video as evidence that there was something to the White House's claim that "Fox News is not a news organization."
But the idea that you could go to jail didn't get started with Fox News. The idea spread because under some versions of the health care bill you could have gone to jail. On September 25, Politico reported:
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
ABC News reported on the letter as well. As Allahpundit notes, "It’s not like the possibility of prison was some far-out conspiracy theory: Obama and Pelosi were both asked about it months ago, when the bill was still taking shape, and both conspicuously declined to say 'no way.'"
The media coverage forced the Senate to include a specific provision in the bill unveiled October 19 that stipulated no one would go to jail for not buying insurance. So you could argue that after October 19, reporters should have acknowledged you probably wouldn't go to jail. But we really didn't know what the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate would be until the final text of the bill was released in March.
If Fox News personalities are to blame for suggesting jail time for Obamacare evaders, so is Keith Olbermann. He said on December 16:
We must not buy federally-mandated insurance. [...]
I hereby pledge that I will not buy this perversion of health-care reform. Pass this at your peril, senators. And sign it at yours, Mr. President. I will not buy this insurance. Brand me a law-breaker if you choose. Fine me if you will. Jail me if you must.
So what actually happens to you if you don't buy insurance? The government says you have to pay a fee of $695 or 2.5% of adjusted gross income. And if you don't pay the fee? According to the Congressional Research Service, the only way the government can collect the funds is by withholding future tax rebates:
Taxpayers who are required to pay a penalty but fail to do so will receive a notice from Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that they owe the penalty. If they still do not pay the penalty, the IRS can attempt to collect the funds by reducing the amount of their tax refund in the future. However, individuals who fail to pay the penalty will not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty for such failure. The Secretary can not file notice of lien or levy on any property for a taxpayer who does not pay the penalty.
As long as you make sure too much money isn't withheld from your paycheck, you won't have to pay a dime if you go without health insurance. And then, if you get sick, insurance companies are prohibited from denying you insurance coverage. In other words, the individual mandate is completely unworkable. Get ready for the insurance spiral of death -- if Republicans don't repeal Obamacare in time.