Jon Stewart has some questions about Obamacare

October 8, 2013

Much to the delight of health nerds across the country, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appeared on "The Daily Show" last night. Aside from one opening crack about HealthCare.Gov ("I’m going to try and download every movie ever made and you are going to try to sign up for Obamacare," Stewart told Sebelius), there was surprisingly little talk about the health law's rocky launch.

They did spend a lot of time, however, having a pretty confusing conversation about the health law's individual mandate and why the White House has not delayed it. "A very legitimate criticism of this is businesses were given a delay of a year and individuals were not," Stewart told Sebelius.

This conversation goes on for a good chunk of the interview, with Stewart asking about this repeatedly, leaving for a commercial break with, "I don't understand why individuals can't get a delay."

Hopefully we here at Wonkblog can help explain! As Stewart mentions, the White House is no stranger to health law delays. But the individual mandate is different from the pieces that have been put off so far, like the employer mandate, which wasn't expected to significantly expand coverage.

The individual mandate, by contrast, is what one expert describes as "a cornerstone, holding the individual market together." Without it, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 11 million fewer people would gain coverage under the Affordable Care Act. That's a lot of people, and among the reasons, which you can read more about here, that you're unlikely to see the individual mandate disappear anytime soon.

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Lydia DePillis · October 8, 2013