Earlier this week, Mitt Romney’s top campaign advisers broke with the entire Republican party and insisted that Obama’s health care mandate is “not a tax.” Then, on Wednesday, Romney contradicted his own campaign, saying in a CBS interview that “while I agreed with the dissent, that’s taken over by the fact that the majority of the Court said it is a tax, and therefore it is a tax.” Romney maintained in the same interview that while the Obamacare mandate is most definitely a tax, the Massachusetts health care mandate — which Romney instituted less than a decade ago and which is virtually identical to Obama’s mandate — “was a mandate, was a penalty, was described that way by the Legislature and by me, and so it stays as it was.”
Despite Romney’s public insistence that the Massachusetts health care mandate was not a tax, several official websites of the state explicitly call the mandate a “tax penalty.” The Official Website of the Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation contains a page called “Massachusetts Health Care Reform: Tips and Resources,” which states that:
Starting July 1st, 2007, all Massachusetts residents age 18 and over must have health insurance. Every year, you will need to show proof of health insurance on your state income tax return. If you do not have health insurance, you will face a stiff tax penalty. For the 2007 tax year, this penalty is the loss of your personal exemption. In later years, it could be up to 50% of the amount of the cheapest health insurance plan offered through the Commonwealth Connector. If you need to buy health insurance, many new health plans are now available.
Another Massachusetts state website helps residents “estimate the tax penalties that you might face if you will be uninsured for part or all of 2011.”
The labeling of the mandate as a “tax penalty” on Massachusetts state websites only adds fuel to the debate of how best to characterize health care mandates. The websites, which are a primary resource for Massachusetts residents to navigate the state’s health care system, directly contradict Romney’s already confusing position on the mandate. Their characterization of the mandate as a “tax penalty” could pose a problem for Romney, who has criticized President Obama for breaking his pledge that he “wouldn’t raise taxes on middle-income Americans.”