The health care law imposes a federal mandate requiring middle-class Americans to buy health insurance "whether they can afford it or not."
Artur Davis on Tuesday, August 28th, 2012 in a speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa
Artur Davis says the health care law requires people to buy insurance "whether they can afford it or not"
Back in 2008, Artur Davis was a Democratic congressman from Alabama who supported Barack Obama for president.
In 2012, he’s a Republican supporting Mitt Romney who spoke at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Davis used himself as an example to voters who’ve become disillusioned with Obama.
"What a difference four years make," Davis said, lamenting Obama’s first-term record, including his signature health care law.
"And in terms of their crown jewel legislative achievement: Who knew that when asked, ‘Could government conceivably impose a federal mandate requiring middle-class Americans to buy health insurance whether they can afford it or not?’ That the Obama answer would be ‘Yes we can!’ "
Here at PolitiFact, we’ve fact-checked the health care law many times. Davis’ comments struck us immediately as a misrepresentation.
The health care law does include a mandate for Americans to have insurance. But it’s not a mandate that applies whether people can "afford it or not."
Here’s how it works: The mandate is a tax penalty assessed on people’s income tax returns. The tax won’t affect anyone who has health insurance. The uninsured, though, will be penalized if they remain uninsured. Supporters of Obama’s health law say the penalty is intended to prod them to get health insurance, not punish them.
The law has provisions so that people with lower incomes can afford coverage. The law expands Medicaid, an existing government health insurance program for the very poor. And it gives tax credits to people of modest means to help them buy their own insurance policies.
People who earn less than 400 percent of the poverty level are eligible for tax credits that go to help them buy their own insurance. That works out to $44,680 for a single person or $92,200 for a family of four. Those income levels strike us as middle class.
Contrary to the impression Davis gave, the law does make exceptions if people can’t afford insurance.
If people have to pay more than 8 percent of their earnings for a health insurance policy (not counting their employers’ contributions or the new tax credits), they qualify for a hardship exemption. That means they would still be uninsured, but the mandate would not apply to them.
Also, people are exempt from the mandate if they don’t make enough money to have to file a federal tax return. There are also exemptions for illegal immigrants, prisoners, and people who have religious objections to health insurance.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care research group, explains via a graphic how the mandate functions.
We should note that there are two tricky aspects to Davis’ claim.
He says the "middle class" would have to buy insurance whether they could afford it or not. There is no standard definition of the middle class. Certainly many people who don’t qualify for assistance under the health care law would consider themselves middle class. And some of these same people might say that they can’t afford to spend 8 percent of their income on health insurance.
Still, Davis’ remarks at the Republican National Convention make it sound like the law is indifferent to issues of affordability. That’s hardly the case. People earning less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level would qualify for tax credits to purchase insurance. And if a health insurance policy exceeded 8 percent of income, people would qualify for a hardship exemption under the law. We rate Davis’ claim Mostly False.