Is It A Penalty Or A Tax?

July 12, 2012, 2:00 PM GMT+0

(Week of 7/7/2012) Most Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll know that the Supreme Court upheld the bulk of the 2010 Affordable Care act, which requires nearly all Americans to purchase health insurance or make a payment to the government. The Supreme Court ruled that the health insurance requirement was constitutional because its punitive component could be viewed as a tax, even though the law’s authors intended it to be viewed as a penalty.

Americans are divided on how to consider the health insurance mandate: 42% call it a penalty, while 40% view it as a tax.

The word Americans choose is partly – but not entirely – based on party. By 47% to 30%, Democrats, like their President, call it a penalty. By 54% to 38%, Republicans say it is a tax.

The party conflict on the health care law has now moved to the issue of whether individual states will opt into the law’s Medicaid expansion, with funding for that expansion completely paid for by the federal government through 2017 (after which the federal government will pay around 90% of the costs). Several Republican governors have indicated they oppose this expansion and won’t accept the federal money. Many Americans (but not all that many Republicans) think they should. 46% think their state should expand the Medicaid program, while 29% disagree. Only 21% of Republicans, however, say their state should accept the money.

One of the difficulties the Administration has had in gaining support for the health care law is that Americans continue to think they will personally gain little and may even lose something as the law is implemented. Over twice as many believe their own care will get worse under the law as believe it will get better. And even Democrats are dubious: only 25% of them say their own care will improve under the law. Nor surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of Republicans believe their care will get worse.