Earlier this week, Bill O'Reilly claimed, "[W]e researched to find out if anybody had ever said you are going to jail if you don't buy health insurance. Nobody has ever said it." Media Matters quickly responded, pointing out numerous occasions on which Fox News hosts had done just that. Even O'Reilly's colleague Neil Cavuto acknowledged the next day that "a number of Fox personalities" made the false claim.
But unwilling to admit that he was wrong, O'Reilly returned with more spin, claiming that "Nobody at Fox News reported inaccurately about the Obamacare prison situation. Nobody." According to O'Reilly, "Last fall, when jail time was on the table, Fox News reported on it," but they stopped doing so once "the prison option was taken off the bill when the final Obamacare bill was being debated."
We again responded, noting that those fall Fox reports were false -- the bill they were discussing would not have penalized failure to buy insurance with jail time. It would have penalized failure to have health insurance with a tax, and those who refused to pay that tax could have been subject to "criminal penalties for noncompliance," just like they would be if they failed to pay other types of taxes. We also noted that the Joint Tax Committee stated that fewer than 100 people were convicted for "willful failure to file or pay taxes" in fiscal year 2008, and that "The majority of delinquent taxes and penalties are collected through the civil process."
But it doesn't stop there.
Here's Fox's Bill Hemmer on March 19 -- the day the health care reconciliation package was released -- pushing the debunked myth by asking of the legislation, "Could people be going to jail for not owning health insurance?"
The Joint Committee on Taxation later stated that under the Senate health bill and the reconciliation bill, which both subsequently passed, "individuals who fail to maintain minimum essential [health insurance] coverage in 2016 are subject" to a fee, but that "[n]on-compliance" with that fee "is not subject to criminal or civil penalties." In other words, you cannot be imprisoned for not paying the taxes levied for not having health insurance under the reform law.
That didn't keep Fox Business' Eric Bolling from falsely claiming on April 10 that if you don't have health insurance, the IRS "can fine you $750 or 2 percent of your income, whichever is more. If you don't pay they'll take it out of your refund. And God forbid you don't have a refund and you still don't want to pay they'll probably put you in jail." Watch:
What was it O'Reilly said? Oh, right. "Nobody at Fox News reported inaccurately about the Obamacare prison situation. Nobody."