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Republicans move to kill health reform law's individual mandate

Republicans move to kill health reform law's individual mandate

Legislation that would eliminate the health care reform law's mandate for most Americans to buy health insurance was introduced Wednesday by a pair of senators running the committees with the most influence over health care issues.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Finance Committee, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee are sponsoring the American Liberty Restoration Act. Twenty other Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors.

“Forcing Americans to purchase insurance goes against our nation's history of individual liberty,” Sen. Hatch said in a statement. “This legislation strikes Obamacare's individual mandate and restores the freedoms outlined in the Constitution.”

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, most Americans face a tax penalty if they don't have health coverage. The fine for failing to obtain insurance last year was $95, or 1% of income, whichever is higher. This year the penalty increases to $325, or 2% of income. The filing season underway for the 2014 tax year is the first time Americans will have to deal with the mandate on their returns.

“Millions more Americans are in for sticker shock when they see how much they owe the IRS in April because of Obamacare,” Sen. Alexander said in a statement.

Eliminating the individual mandate could destabilize the risk pools in the ACA's fledgling state and federal exchanges. That's because under the federal health care law, insurers are barred from discriminating against individuals with pre-existing conditions. Without the mandate, they would likely attract a disproportionately unhealthy, expensive population, which would cause premiums to skyrocket.

No Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors of the repeal legislation. President Barack Obama is certain to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. After the Democrats lost control of the Senate in the November 2014 midterms, he described the mandate as “a line I can't cross.”

Paul Demko writes for Modern Healthcare, a sister publication of Business Insurance.

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