Stephanopoulos to Obama: Isn't a health-insurance mandate a tax?

In which George S. is reduced to reading the dictionary definition of “tax” to the president of the United States. Obama’s point is that people who can afford to buy insurance but don’t are gambling with house money. If they get hit by a car and run up a million-dollar hospital bill — and some of them assuredly will — you and I are forced to pick up the tab in the form of higher premiums, in which case why not make the freeloaders either buy insurance and cover their own asses or pay a “fine” to help offset the cost to the rest of us of covering the uninsured?

All of which avoids the basic point: Of course that “fine” is a tax. Imagine if you were allowed to “opt out” of police protection, with your annual tax bill reduced proportionately by the cost of police services that you wouldn’t be using. Inevitably, some who opted out would have a huge (i.e. hugely expensive) police emergency and would call the cops anyway and the rest of us would be on the hook for paying for it. Solution: End the opt out and force people to cover their share of the cost of police services whether they want to or not, which is exactly what cities do. You can call that an “individual police-fee mandate” if your heart desires but most of us recognize it instantly for what it really is — namely, a tax. (The next time a cop pulls you over, try telling him, “My individual police-fee mandate pays your salary.”) No surprise at all, though, that the same guy who insists that this colossal boondoggle will be deficit-neutral can’t level with the public here either. He promised you he wouldn’t raise taxes and, darn it, he’s not going to raise taxes. But he didn’t say anything about “fines,” did he?

Exit question one: Isn’t this an oddly regressive tax argument for The One to be making? Many people who can afford insurance but refuse to purchase it are kids in their 20s, whose careers are just starting and who aren’t making much money yet. People who can afford it and do purchase it tend to be older, more established in their careers, and likely a bit better off. Essentially he’s arguing that it’s unfair for these richer folk to have to pay higher premiums to cover those who can less afford it. What happened to redistribution, champ? Exit question two: If he’s so worried about avoidable freeloading, isn’t he overlooking another rather large class of people?

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