As negotiations continue to reconcile the differences between the Senate and House versions of the health reform legislation, one thing is clear: most Americans would be required to obtain health insurance and penalties would be imposed on those who failed to do so.  This provision is known as “individual responsibility” or an “individual mandate.” 

An updated Health Policy Brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation examines the individual mandate issue.  It updates the policy brief issued by Health Affairs on September 29, 2009.

Highlights include:

  • Ways in which legal residents could comply with the provision – for example, by obtaining  coverage through an insurance exchange or, if they qualified, through a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid
  • Differences between the House and Senate bill on penalties for failing to comply.
  • The ability of some legal residents to be relieved of non-compliance penalties if they can prove “financial hardship.”
  • Key arguments for and against the individual mandate.

The new brief on the individual mandate is part of a series of free policy briefs geared to policymakers, congressional staffers, news media and other readers who may not have a background in health issues but want to better understand the basics of proposed changes in the nation’s health care system. The briefs provide a short, jargon-free overview that includes arguments from competing sides of a policy proposal and the relevant research supporting each perspective.