Sean Hannity falsely claimed that Americans face jail time as a penalty for failure to buy insurance under the House health care bill.
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From the November 10 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
HANNITY: Alright, Dick Morris was on the program last night. Penalties for people who don't get government-mandated health insurance, uh, jail time, a possibility?
Fact: Penalty for failure to purchase insurance is a tax, not jail time
As Media Matters for America has documented several times, Section 501 of the House health care bill provides that an individual must be "covered by acceptable coverage at all times." "Acceptable coverage" includes "qualified health benefits plan coverage," "grandfathered health insurance coverage," "Medicare," "Medicaid," coverage provided to members of the armed forces and their dependants, "coverage under the veteran's health care program," people who receive health care "through the Indian Health Service," or other coverage deemed acceptable by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. If a person does not have acceptable health care coverage, Section 501 imposes a tax on that person "not to exceed the applicable national average premium."
Fact: Willful failure to pay taxes of any sort can result in civil or criminal penalties
A press release by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) relying on a letter from the Joint Committee on Taxation states that "Americans who do not maintain 'acceptable health insurance coverage' and who choose not to pay the bill's new individual mandate tax (generally 2.5% of income), are subject to numerous civil and criminal penalties, including criminal fines of up to $250,000 and imprisonment of up to five years." That section of the letter dealing with "civil and criminal penalties for noncompliance" specifies that Camp asked the committee to "discuss the situation in which the taxpayer has chosen not to comply with individual mandate and not to pay the additional tax." Thus, the letter is not discussing the penalties for failure to buy insurance, but the penalties for both failing to buy insurance and failing to pay the tax. The committee's letter explains that the tax code provides penalties to prevent tax evasion of any sort: "The Code provides for both civil and criminal penalties to ensure complete and accurate reporting of tax liability and to discourage fraudulent attempts to defeat or evade tax." [Joint Committee on Taxation letter, 11/5/09]