Last night (October 9), my wife brought home a pamphlet from our local CVS pharmacy, titled "Affordable Care Act Answers."  I didn't expect to find anything in this simple booklet that I didn't already know, but it did refer me to their website on the topic, CVS.com/insurance, which my wife asked me to check out.

On the website is this Q&A entry:

Do I need to have insurance?

Yes. The ACA requires all Americans have health care coverage "that meets basic minimum standards."

I said to my wife, "That's flat-out false," and I sent a brief, indignant note to CVS from my iPad telling them of their mistake, and why they were wrong.

Then it occurred to me -- although I know that the CVS website statement is untrue, most Americans are acting as if, indeed, the federal government has ordered them to buy health insurance, or else.  I've been checking the HealthCare.gov Facebook page (at https://www.facebook.com/Healthcare.gov) regularly, and I see people panicking -- they feel they must buy health insurance by December 15, and the signup website still doesn't work in its ninth day of being up and running (or should I say "not running"?).

Let me explain.  As the Unaffordable Care Act was originally written, indeed, the law did mandate that Americans purchase healthcare insurance or suffer a penalty (with constitutional authority coming through the Commerce Clause and/or regulation of interstate commerce).  This is what the U.S. Supreme Court found unconstitutional -- the government cannot, by force of law, order you as a citizen to buy a product.

What Chief Justice John Roberts said was, "The mandate can be regarded as establishing a condition -- not owning health insurance -- that triggers a tax -- the required payment to the IRS."  That's pretty clear.

That is, in Roberts's reworking, the "mandate" cannot force you to buy health insurance (which is why CVS's Q&A is wrong); that is unconstitutional.  The "mandate" merely establishes your taxable status.  If you buy health insurance, you avoid paying a tax.  Otherwise, you pay a tax.  It's that simple.  You can see that the word "mandate" is a misnomer for the law's implementation.

The most important thing for people to realize is that they are not "breaking the law" by failing to purchase health insurance.  Roberts's ruling means you can freely choose whether or not you want to buy health insurance, and either choice is perfectly legal.  Now, the Obama administration wants you to think you're a lawbreaker if you don't buy the insurance, as do the pimps of the dinosaur media and the companies who are peddling health care insurance and other health care products.  The words "mandate" and "penalty" are frightening, but the law is toothless here.

Under the Unaffordable Care Act, as redefined by the Supreme Court, whether or not you buy health care insurance is a purely economic decision.  You can sign up for a plan which may cost several hundred dollars a month or more, or you can pay a tax (in 2016 and beyond -- 2014 and 2015 are cheaper) of about $58 per month for individuals or $174 per month for families of 4 or more (or 2.5% of household income, whichever is greater).  Think of paying the tax as your guarantee that you will be able to buy comprehensive health insurance at the next open-enrollment period should the need arise, as insurance companies must now accept people with pre-existing conditions.  In the meantime, you could pay for your own health care out of pocket; it might be the cheaper way to go.

About the author: Nick Chase is a retired but still very active technical writer, technical editor, computer programmer and stock market newsletter writer.  During his career he has produced documentation on computers, typewriters, typesetters, headline-makers, and other pieces of equipment most people never heard of, and he has programmed typesetting equipment.  You can read more of his work on the American Thinker website and at contrariansview.org.