Thanks to the GOP tax bill, the individual mandate penalty for not purchasing health insurance will be no more as of 2019. But that’s apparently not soon enough for the Trump administration. The Department of Health and Human Services released a new rule late Monday afternoon saying that people who live in counties with only one insurance company on the individual market can qualify for a “hardship exemption” and won’t be penalized on their 2018 taxes.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, this could let people in hundreds of counties off the hook, as insurer exits due to Trump administration uncertainty has left more than a quarter of the country living in an area with only one health insurance provider on the individual marketplace.
HHS will also allow people to forgo health insurance without paying a penalty if the only plan they can afford in their area is one that “provide[s] coverage of abortion, contrary to one’s beliefs.” Because a handful of progressive-leaning states, including New York and California, mandate that all plans on the individual market include coverage of abortion care, this could exempt millions of people in those states.
Because the individual mandate penalty will disappear entirely next year, this move is not quite the blow to the ACA that it would have been otherwise. It may, however, prompt more people to drop their insurance — exacerbating the Trump administration trend of a spike in the number of uninsured Americans.