The so-called “individual mandate” is one of the law’s most controversial provisions. It says that by 2014, all Americans have to maintain “minimum essential coverage.” If not, they face a penalty starting at $95 or 1% of income in 2014, and rising to $695 or 2.5% of income in 2016. After 2016, the $695 amount is indexed for inflation.
That’s a pretty big step. The government has never required us to buy commercial products or services before. If you drive a car, most states mandate you buy car insurance – but nobody says you have to buy a car.
Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule. If your taxable income is under the federal poverty line, or the cost of coverage is more than 8% of your household income, you don’t have to pay. And if your taxable income is less than four times the federal poverty limit, you’ll get tax credits to help pay for coverage.