It has been widely reported that people are having trouble buying healthcare through the online exchanges due to technical difficulties, a situation President Obama addressed from the Rose Garden on Monday, saying “no one is madder than me” and encouraging people to try to sign up by telephone rather than online. Ezra Klein calls the rollout, so far, a “failure” but says the real question is how long it takes for the exchanges to get running smoothly.
Klein is right about that: it would seem unfair to impose a tax on someone for failing to obtain insurance if they tried but were unable to do so due to problems with the government-run website. Yet that is what the well-known individual mandate codified at 26 U.S.C. § 5000A(b)(1) says: a taxpayer who goes a month (or more) without health insurance after the effective date must pay a tax penalty. There is no exception for taxpayers who tried and failed to get health insurance through the exchanges. Or is there?