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Our Health

November 1, 2013

5 myths about the Affordable Care Act

"Frustrating." A "debacle." That is how President Barack Obama's own secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, has described the rocky launch of HealthCare.gov. Americans were supposed to begin shopping for insurance coverage on Oct. 1, but millions have been unable to log into the federal online exchange. Congress, meanwhile, shut down the government for 16 days in a dispute over whether to fund the health-care law. As the debate continues, let's look at some of the most persistent myths about the law — and some new ones that have cropped up.

1. Americans will be forced to buy health insurance.

The health-care law's individual mandate, despite its name, isn't meant to force Americans into health plans. Instead, it is supposed to encourage people to purchase coverage by giving them two options: Buy insurance or pay a fine. In 2014, that fine is $95 or 1 percent of an individual's income, whichever is higher.

The Internal Revenue Service is responsible for collecting this penalty from individuals who indicate on their annual tax filings that they have not purchased coverage. The agency can take the penalty out of a filer's refund, but beyond that, its ability to recoup those dollars is extremely limited. The IRS cannot, for example, send agents to people's homes or put liens on their houses. In the health-care law, Congress specifically curtailed the ability to enforce this penalty, giving the IRS fewer ways to collect it than there are for other tax fines.

2. If you like your health plan, you can keep it.

Obama has repeatedly made this key promise about his signature legislation. "If you're one of the more than 250 million Americans who already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance," he said in June 2012, shortly after the Supreme Court upheld the law.

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