O'Reilly's whopper: “Nobody” on Fox said failing to buy health insurance could result in jail time

Responding to Sen. Tom Coburn's suggestion that Fox News perpetuated the false claim that under the health care reform legislation individuals can be sent to jail for not having health insurance, Bill O'Reilly repeatedly insisted that “nobody” on Fox advanced that assertion. In fact, Fox has relentlessly pushed that falsehood, including on O'Reilly's own show.

O'Reilly falsely claims "[n]obody" on Fox ever pushed health care jail-time falsehood

O'Reilly: "[W]e researched" and "[n]obody" on Fox “ever said you are going to jail if you don't buy health insurance.” On the April 13 edition of Fox News' O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly told Sen. Coburn: "[Y]ou don't know anybody on Fox News -- because there hasn't been anyone -- that said people will go to jail if they don't buy mandatory insurance." He added: "[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. What it seems to me is you used Fox News as a whipping boy when we didn't qualify there ... you were wrong to do that, Senator, with all due respect."

Fox News has repeated pushed the false claim, including on O'Reilly Factor

On The O'Reilly Factor, Glenn Beck told O'Reilly you “go to jail” for not having health insurance under bill. From the November 13, 2009, edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: Couldn't they do [liposuction] at the same time [as your appendectomy]?

BECK: No, they wouldn't. No. I don't have universal health care.

O'REILLY: No, let's get -- well, you will soon.

BECK: Or I'll go to jail.

O'REILLY: Are you going to be a conscientious objector to health care?

BECK: You know, this is the first time in history in our country where, just to be a citizen, just to be -- just to not go to jail, you have to buy something.

On his own Fox show, Beck falsely claimed that “if you don't get into their government health care, there will be jail time.” On the November 12, 2009, edition of his Fox News show, Beck claimed that “if you don't get into their government health care, there will be jail time.”

On Fox & Friends, Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed the health care bill “puts people in jail” for not having health insurance. On the February 4 edition of Fox & Friends, Limbaugh asserted: “This is not even a health care bill. This is a bill that raises taxes 14 times; puts people in jail, potentially, if they don't have health insurance mandated by the government to buy. This is an avenue to control every aspect of life.”

Dick Morris has repeatedly made the false claim. On the November 9, 2009, edition of Fox News' Hannity, Morris asserted: “One of the provisions in the Pelosi bill is you actually can go to jail for not having health insurance. It says if you don't have health insurance, you have to pay a fine of 2.5 percent of your income to the government. And if you don't, you face $250,000 or five years in prison. Can you imagine your prison yard? 'What are you in for?' 'Murder.' 'I'm in for rape.' 'I didn't have health insurance.' ” Sean Hannity then replied: “Well I don't mean to laugh, but, I mean, this is the reality.” Similarly, on the November 23, 2009, edition of Hannity, Morris asserted that among young people the question “has gone from 'Oh, yeah, we really need insurance' to 'What, am I going to go to jail if I don't have it?' ”

Hannity cites Morris' false claim that jail is a penalty for failure to buy insurance under heatlh bill. During the November 10, 2009, edition of his Fox News program, Sean Hannity stated, “Dick Morris was on the program last night. Penalties for people who don't get government-mandated health insurance, uh, jail time, a possibility?”

Judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano falsely claimed that under the House health care bill, the government could “even put you in jail” if you fail to purchase insurance. From the November 10, 2009, edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

NAPOLITANO: For the first time in American history, if this bill becomes law, the feds will force you to buy insurance you might not want or may not need or cannot afford. If you don't purchase what the government tells you to buy, if you don't do so when they tell you to do it, if you don't buy just what they say is right for you, the government may fine you, prosecute you, and even put you in jail. Freedom of choice and control over your own body will be lost. The privacy of your communications and medical making decisions with your physician will be gone. More of your hard earned dollars will be at the disposal and tender mercies of federal bureaucrats. It was not intended to be this way.

Bill Hemmer: “Could people be going to jail for not owning health insurance?” Hemmer perpetuated the debunked myth on the March 19 edition of America's Newsroom when he asked a guest: “Could people be going to jail for not owning health insurance?”

Van Susteren: "[I]t is theoretically possible" that if “you can't afford insurance for whatever reason” the government could “send you to jail.” From the October 6, 2009, edition of On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:

REP. JOHN SHADEGG (R-AZ): So if you don't buy government-approved health insurance -- and that's an important part of it. If you, for example, have an HSA and the government doesn't approve it and you don't go buy another plan, you get fined or maybe go to jail.

VAN SUSTEREN: Can you...

SHADEGG: If you want to go to a naturopath or a homeopathic, no, no, no. That's not approved by the government.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm not suggesting that anyone should get into trouble with the law, but can you imagine anything so bizarre as to put, like -- let's say you can't afford insurance for whatever reason -- that, I mean, can you imagine the sheriff going out and running you in, throwing you in jail? I mean, it is theoretically possible under what you tell me.

SHADEGG: People find it bizarre, but it shows how far we've gotten away from what we ought to be focused on. We ought to be focused on bringing down the cost of health care for every American so they can afford it, deal with preexisting conditions, deal with people who can't buy coverage, help them buy coverage, not punish them with fines. Obama had it right in the campaign when he said if you can't afford coverage to begin with, how much better off are we to fine you? But the big insurance companies --

VAN SUSTEREN: Or send you to jail.

Fox Nation: “Pelosi: It's 'Fair' to Jail People Without Health Insurance.” On November 11, 2009, and November 12, 2009, Fox Nation posted a video clip with the headline: “Pelosi: It's 'Fair' to Jail People Without Health Insurance.” In the clip, a local reporter asked of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a November 9 press conference the false question, “Do you think it's fair to send people to jail for not buying health insurance?”:

Fox & Friends graphic: “Comply or go to jail.” Fox & Friends aired the following graphic on November 10, 2009:

Under reform law, no “criminal... penalties” for failure to have health insurance coverage

JCT: “Non-compliance with” the insurance mandate “is not subject to criminal or civil penalties.” The Joint Committee on Taxation stated in its analysis of the revenue provisions of the Senate health care reform bill and the health care reconciliation bill that “individuals who fail to maintain minimum essential [health insurance] coverage in 2016 are subject” to a fee, but that "[n]on-compliance" with that provision “is not subject to criminal or civil penalties”:

Individuals who fail to maintain minimum essential coverage in 2016 are subject to a penalty equal to the greater of: (1) 2.5 percent of household income in excess of the taxpayer's household income for the taxable year over the threshold amount of income required for income tax return filing for that taxpayer under section 6012(a)(1);67 or (2) $695 per uninsured adult in the household. The fee for an uninsured individual under age 18 is one-half of the adult fee for an adult. The total household penalty may not exceed 300 percent of the per adult penalty ($2,085). The total annual household payment may not exceed the national average annual premium for bronze level health plan offered through the Exchange that year for the household size.

This per adult annual penalty is phased in as follows: $95 for 2014; $325 for 2015; and lowest $50. The percentage of income is phased in as follows: one percent for 2014; two percent in 2015; and 2.5 percent beginning after 2015. If a taxpayer files a joint return, the individual and spouse are jointly liable for any penalty payment.

The penalty applies to any period the individual does not maintain minimum essential coverage and is determined monthly. The penalty is assessed through the Code and accounted for as an additional amount of Federal tax owed. However, it is not subject to the enforcement provisions of subtitle F of the Code. The use of liens and seizures otherwise authorized for collection of taxes does not apply to the collection of this penalty. Non-compliance with the personal responsibility requirement to have health coverage is not subject to criminal or civil penalties under the Code and interest does not accrue for failure to pay such assessments in a timely manner.

Earlier versions of reform legislation provided for “criminal penalties” only for those who refused to pay the fee. Both the House and the Senate versions of health care reform required individuals to be covered by a minimum level of health insurance or pay a monetary penalty. A November 2009 letter from the Joint Committee on Taxation on the House health care bill stated that individuals who did not have such coverage and refused to pay the fine would be subject to “civil and criminal penalties for noncompliance.” 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]