Delilah Jean Williams

President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, his signature health-care law, into law in 2010. Republicans quickly vowed to overturn it, but their hopes were dashed—first by the Supreme Court ruling that it was constitutional, and then by last year's election results.

On Wednesday, the Health and Human Services Department and the Internal Revenue Service took steps toward implementing the individual mandate in the health-care legislation.

The mandate has been the most controversial part of the law, primarily due to misinformation floated by special interest groups, insurance company lobbyists and congressional Republicans bent on opposing everything Obama sought to accomplish in their quest to marginalize him and make him a one-term president.

Health-care reform has been attempted by past presidents, including Bill Clinton, but Obama actually got it done, even in the face of “death panels” and other conservative propaganda.

During the health-care battle, Tea Party opponents, who loved to put snarky labels on things they didn’t agree with, started calling it “Obamacare.” But Obama turned the tables by embracing the label, saying he didn’t mind it because he “does care.”

The Affordable Care Act is supported by many healthcare organizations, like the American Public Health Association. According to a statement by the APHA, the historic health-care law has comprehensive prevention provisions consistent with those called for by APHA. The enactment of the Affordable Care Act begins to shift our health system from one that focuses on treating the sick to one that focuses on keeping people healthy.

APHA director Dr. Georges C. Benjamin praised the June 2012 Supreme Court decision to uphold Obama’s health-care law, which was challenged by a consortium of Republican attorney generals across the country.

“The historic ruling by the nation’s highest court marks a significant milestone in our national efforts to improve the delivery and financing of health services in the US and to promote health and wellness rather than disease treatment," Benjamin said.

Currently, the HHS and IRS have fact sheets available for individuals and businesses as the government prepares to transition to the next phase, which will include the mandate. But there are many exemptions available. It is not a one-size-fits-all mandate.

A report Wednesday in The Hill has this HHS explanation:

The Affordable Care Act includes exceptions for people with religious objections to traditional healthcare services, as well as a slew of income-related carve-outs.A principle in implementing the individual shared responsibility provision is that the shared responsibility payment should not apply to any taxpayer for whom coverage is unaffordable, who has other good cause for going without coverage, or who goes without coverage for only a short time.

People who do not make enough money to pay federal income taxes aren't subject to the mandate, and neither are people for whom coverage would be unaffordable, as defined by the healthcare law. For employer-based coverage to meet the law's definition of affordability, it can't cost more than 9 percent of an employee's salary. Undocumented immigrants aren't subject to the mandate, since they're ineligible for government assistance to help buy healthcare coverage.

Americans who can afford to pay for coverage and don’t fall into one of the numerous exemption categories will have to pay a penalty through the IRS tax process.

No, the government will not throw people in jail who don’t pay, as conservatives have frequently argued. But it will be more costly the longer an eligible individual holds out, while continuing to depend on the emergency room for health-related issues.

For more Affordable Care Act facts for individuals, click here.

For more Affordable Care Act facts for businesses, click here.


Jean Williams, environmental and political journalist; PrairieDogPress writer; Artistic Director, Keystone Prairie Dogs.***PrairieDogPress is the media channel for, which is a fundraising website to support environmental groups for extraordinary efforts to protect Great Plains habitat and prairie dogs in the wild. PDP uses humorous images, social commentary and serious-minded political reports to challenge government on numerous levels, including accountability to the people, the protection of threatened species, the environment and Earth’s natural resources.