KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

White House Budget Director Stumbles On Question About Mandate

The health law’s individual mandate is not a tax, the OMB director said under questioning at a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday, even though the administration has claimed the opposite in its defense of the law before the Supreme Court.  

Politico: Did OMB Director Not Get The Mandate Memo?
On Wednesday, acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients appeared to tell the House Budget Committee that the individual mandate isn’t a tax. Which could be a bit of a problem, since the Obama administration is defending the mandate before the Supreme Court by arguing that it is a tax — for legal purposes, anyway (Nather, 2/15).

The Hill: House GOP Pounces After Obama Budget Director Says Health Mandate 'Not A Tax'
House Republicans quickly pounced Wednesday after the White House's top budget official said the healthcare reform law's penalty on people who don't buy insurance isn't a tax. Republicans argue the admission from Acting White House Budget Director Jeff Zients undermines the White House's defense of the law before the Supreme Court. Congress has broad power to impose taxes (Pecquet, 2/15).

One expert talks about the import of that case.

Kaiser Health News (Video): Preview: The 'Very Big Deal' – SCOTUS Takes On The Health Law
In just over five weeks, the Supreme Court will hear challenges and defenses of the 2010 Affordable Care Act – the federal health reform law. In part one of two conversations about the case, Jackie Judd talks with Stuart Taylor, an attorney and contributing editor for the National Journal, about why these cases are so significant (2/15).

Meanwhile, a new study by RAND Health suggests that even without the mandate, the health law would survive.

National Journal: Health Law Would Not Implode Without Mandate, RAND Study Finds
If the Supreme Court knocked out the health care reform law’s individual mandate, but preserved everything else, the sky would not fall, according to a new analysis from RAND Health. The study, published on Thursday, looked at the effects of enrollment and premium increases in a universe in which health care reform stayed on the books without the controversial requirement. … the Obama administration is arguing that the mandate is the key piece of a larger regulatory structure that expands coverage without causing premiums to skyrocket (Sanger-Katz).

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