- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2015

The administration is warning HealthCare.gov customers to make sure they log onto the Obamacare website and get covered so they don’t face a stiff penalty for lacking health insurance next year.

An email blast to people with Web accounts on the federal portal says going without coverage next year “could cost you $695 or more,” a rare nod to the law’s “individual mandate” requiring most Americans to either hold insurance or pay a tax penalty.

“Important: The penalty for not having health insurance is increasing,” the message says. “If you don’t have health coverage in 2016, you’ll risk having to pay $695 per person or more for the year.”

Though part of a routine series of reminders, the message demonstrates a willingness to highlight the penalty as the Affordable Care Act settles into a challenging third round of signups from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31.

Analysts say some consumers don’t fully appreciate the brunt of the tax, which started at $95 or 1 percent of income over the filing threshold in 2014. It rose to $325 or two percent of income this year, and will spike to $695 or 2.5 percent of income for 2016.

The mandate is one of the most controversial aspects of the 2010 health care law and served as the centerpiece of the 2012 Supreme Court decision upholding it as constitutional.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. held that while the mandate wasn’t allowed under Congress’s powers to control interstate commerce, it was valid as an exercise of its taxing power.

The penalty was a third rail of sorts during the law’s first two enrollment periods, however, as the administration instead highlighted the positive aspects of web-based insurance exchanges and government subsidies that made plans more affordable.

But President Obama has said it will be harder than ever to find people who haven’t signed up during the first two years, and that reaching them is critical to making his signature law succeed.

The government estimates that just 10 million Americans will sign up for plans on the health care exchanges for next year, a small increase over the 9 million-plus enrollees it attracted for 2015 and far short of the 21 million that budget analysts initially projected.

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