"They'll send me to jail if I don't sign up for Obama's health care," an 89-year-old woman said at my family holiday gathering last week. She was agitated and angry. "Imagine sending someone to jail – at my age!"
Even the Republicans in the room rushed to reassure her: "You're covered by Medicare. You're already signed up. Nobody is going to jail."
"Well I don't like it one bit," she said, still upset.
She's an intelligent and well-informed person; where did she get this idea?
From Fox News, of course.
Greta Van Susteren interviewed  Arizona Republican Rep. John Shadegg during the debate on the House bill. He said, "If you don't buy government-approved health insurance, then they will impose a tax on you," and "if you don't pay the tax . . . we can put you in jail for up to a year."
Van Susteren didn't tell him, "that's not true." Instead, she asked, "did you ever say, like, to Speaker Pelosi, Hey, what's up with this? You're going to send poor people to jail because they can't buy the health insurance!"
Van Susteren isn't the only one. Of course there is Glenn Beck. He told Bill O'Reilly on his Nov. 13 show that you'll "go to jail" if you don't get Obama's health care. O'Reilly replied, laughing, "I think you should go to prison for this cause." (Video HERE .)
FoxNews.com reported the same thing about the Senate bill while it was being debated. The same argument appears on hundreds of right-wing blogs.
The facts: the bill will require that everybody carry health insurance – the same way all drivers are required to carry car insurance. That is the "individual mandate." If everyone is covered, including healthy young people, premiums for everyone will be lower. As Media Matters  reported, if a person does not have acceptable health care coverage, the House bill imposes a tax on that person "not to exceed the applicable national average premium."
Then if you go to the tax code, you see that you can be penalized for refusing to pay taxes of any sort – and the penalties include fines and imprisonment.
Employers who refuse to get the mandated health insurance for their employees, and then refuse to pay the tax, should be penalized with fines, and, if they refuse to pay their fines, imprisonment – the same way they would be prosecuted for failing to pay social security taxes for their employees. But it's inconceivable that the Obama administration, or any successor, would send people to jail for not getting their own health insurance.
There are a lot of things wrong with the current Senate and House bills – the attacks on a woman's right to choose, for example – but the individual mandate is not one of them.