Obamacare’s Penalty for Not Buying Insurance Isn’t Penalty ‘Because Penalty is Punishment,’ Says Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee

February 17, 2011 - 5:01 AM

Sheila Jackson-Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas)

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D.-Texas) told the House Judiciary Committee yesterday that the “penalty” that the health-care law enacted last year by Congress imposes on individuals who do not buy health insurance is not in fact a penalty.

The law itself states: “If an applicable individual fails to meet the requirement of subsection (a) [having a government-approved health-insurance policy]… there is hereby imposed a penalty with respect to the individual.”

Elsewhere, in a section entitled “Payment of Penalty,” it says that individuals failing to carry a government-approved health insurance policy must pay a maximum penalty of $750.

In Rep. Jackson-Lee’s view, however, this language does not actually impose a penalty.

“I would make the argument, one, that instead it is an incentive to do right--that it is not penalizing because penalty is punishment,” Jackson-Lee told the Judiciary Committee.

“You’re not punished if you have health insurance, in fact. And so you are, in fact, incentivized to have health insurance, rather than take the negative which is to suggest that because we have a penalty you are being punished,” Rep. Jackson-Lee said. 

“I am helping you. I am helping you not to have 26 percent un-insurance in the state of Texas. I’m helping children be insured. I’m helping diverse minorities be insured,” said Rep. Jackon-Lee. “And I know during the civil rights argument--even though we were arguing under the Constitution--there were many policy statements being made: Do we want to live in a nation that discriminates against a person because of the color of their skin? In addition to the constitutional argument, do we want to live in a nation where there are people being uninsured causing catastrophic costs unto the nation and others have to pay. I think that is the question that needs to be considered by the courts.”

 

“But I also need to say whether or not it is more an incentive than it is a punishment,” said Rep. Jackson-Lee. “I am more inspired by incentive. And I welcome it being a parking ticket. We get parking tickets all the time, and no one complains about being required to do the right thing.”