Republicans are trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s mandate forcing nearly all Americans to pay a tax if they don’t have health insurance. But they’ve just proposed a new penalty of their own for people who go without coverage: a six-month waiting period.
Under a provision added Monday to the Senate GOP’s health-care bill, an individual who is uninsured for more than 63 days would have to wait half a year to gain new health coverage. Like Obamacare’s mandate tax, the waiting period is a punishment designed to encourage people to maintain insurance coverage rather than wait until they get sick to purchase a plan and drive up costs for everyone else.
Republicans have assailed the Obamacare mandate as a punitive and even unconstitutional government dictate, but the need to incentivize people to voluntarily purchase insurance and discourage so-called “free riders” who rely on hospitals and the government to pick up emergency-room bills they can’t pay has long been a bipartisan pursuit. It’s not clear why Senate GOP leaders didn’t include what’s known as a continuous coverage provision in the discussion draft they released on Thursday, but policy analysts quickly pointed out that the omission, combined with other elements of the bill, could lead to a “death spiral” in the individual insurance market. Because the Senate bill maintains Obamacare’s requirement that insurers cover and offer an equal premium rate to people with preexisting conditions, analysts predicted that companies would have to charge higher premiums to stay profitable if there was no incentive for younger, healthier people to purchase coverage.