The Conversation

All That Remains of the Individual Mandate: 20 Minutes of Paperwork

Surprise! The individual mandate has been watered down by the White House to the point that it barely exists at all. That's the conclusion of a piece at Politico which confirms what many conservatives were saying about the mandate two weeks ago.

Titled "Honey, I shrunk the mandate," the piece highlights exemption 14, which was added to the list of possible hardship exemptions in December. It notes that under exemption 14 practically anyone can claim a hardship exemption and documentation is requested "if possible." In other words, documentation is optional.

While the Politico piece accurately frames these exemptions to the mandate as changes needed to "make the politics work" it overlooks the politically salient fact that the White House hid exemption 14 from the public for nearly three months. As I reported back on March 13th, the exemptions page on Healthcare.gov listed only 13 exemptions until the Wall Street Journal story made exemption 14 an issue. Even Brian Beutler at Salon admitted the White House "didn’t broadcast the fact that just about anything counts as a hardship."

Incredibly, Politico suggests the real barrier to people using exemption 14 to opt out of the individual mandate is the paperwork. Author Brett Norman writes "According to a decision this month by the administration, you may be able to escape the obligation of the mandate for the rest of the Obama presidency — if you can deal with the paperwork." Later in the piece he adds that Brian Haile from Jackson Hewitt believes "the paperwork required to claim the hardship exemption would be all but prohibitive to many people."

Really?

Here's the paperwork to request an exemption. It is six pages long and page six is only used if you want to give someone else the power to fill out the form on your behalf. The form proper, i.e. the part you have to fill out, is three pages broken into four steps. Steps 3 and 4 are signing and mailing the form. The remaining steps are simple questions including your name, address, which exemption you want to claim (there's a list of all 14 options on page 2) and a brief explanation. The average person could complete this application in 20-25 minutes, less if they know about exemption 14 already.

Just a few months ago battles lines were drawn over delaying or removing the individual mandate. When the government shutdown ended without a delay, Politico reported on President Obama's "victory lap." But it turns out the White House blinked just a few weeks later. The mandate has become a paper tiger. The only obstacle Americans now face to claiming an exemption to this tax for the rest of the Obama administration is 20 minutes of relatively easy paperwork.


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