Are Fewer People in MA Paying the Indiv Mandate Penalty?

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Since the Supreme Court upheld the ACA/Obamacare, there has been a renewed interest in the Massachusetts healthcare law. I have blogged many times before to caution readers and the media not to assume the two laws will lead to the same results, because they won’t, mostly as Massachusetts is not the same patient with the same ailments as New Mexico, or Michigan, or even Florida.

I know I am fighting against the conventional wisdom,  but this issue warrants discussion as Congress passed a national program and modeled the behavior and cost estimates (incorrectly in my opinion) partially on our experience here in the Bay State.

As a result of the national interest, I assume we will see more local reports on Romneycare. On cue, WBUR’s CommonHealth Blog put up today:

5 Quick Facts About Mass. Health Reform You Now Need To Know

One of the facts cited is the decrease in the number of Massachusetts residents paying the individual mandate penalty.

67,000 in 2007

53,000 in 2008

48,000 in 2009

44,000 in 2010

Seems encouraging, right? More people must be getting insurance. Perhaps, but a closer look at the data raises some interesting questions.

After discussing provisory exemptions with Pioneer’s Senior Fellow Amy Lischko, she dug up religious exemption data, and those persons exempt because insurance coverage is deemed “unaffordable.”

What did we find?

Individual exemptions skyrocketed recently with an increase of almost 50,000 from 2008-2010.

168,000 in 2008

214,980 in 2010

And religious exemptions?

5000 in 2008

7310 in 2010

It appears more people are figuring out a way to get an exemption. The Connector has said they are being more forgiving because of the economy. But it may also be that some people are getting better at hiding income. Either way, it should kill the argument that over time more and more people are giving into the mandate, gaining insurance as a result.

The threshold to receive an exemption is in the hands of the Connector. The threshold for a Hardship Waiver outlines what conditions they will accept to grant a waiver. Regardless of you opinion of the conditions, it should make us nervous when a government agency is given power to unilaterally pick winners/losers and is also able to move the goal posts on their own. Such is the case we find ourselves in Massachusetts.