Deval Patrick insists health law wields penalty, not tax

Governor Deval Patrick watched President Obama on television at the State House after the Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act .

Bill Greene/Globe Staff

Governor Deval Patrick watched President Obama on television at the State House after the Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act .

WASHINGTON – Governor Deval Patrick on Friday morning insisted that federal health care law does not include a tax, despite the Supreme Court ruling that narrowly upheld the law precisely on those grounds.

“Don’t believe the hype that the other side is selling,” Patrick said on a conference call organized by President Obama’s campaign.


“I just want to respond to the frankly bizarre attack, which is the claim this act represents a big tax increase on the middle class,” Patrick said. “First, this is a penalty. It’s about dealing with the freeloaders -- the folks who now get their care without insurance in high-cost emergency room setting. And all the rest of us pay for it today.”

Republicans are making the tax issue a core argument against the law following the landmark decision that upheld it.

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President Obama long argued that no tax increases were included in his plan. But the Supreme Court, in a decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, upheld the law on the grounds that Congress can impose an individual mandate as a form of its taxing powers. Under the law, those who fail to obtain insurance will be required to pay a tax penalty starting in 2014.

“By whatever name, this is a solution,” Patrick added later. “And the fact is that President Obama has one and congressional Republicans and Mitt Romney do not.”

But making the tax component a crux of their argument, Republicans could face political challenges. Their standard-bearer – Romney – signed into law a nearly identical setup in his health care plan in Massachusetts. That law also included an individual mandate and a penalty on those who did not obtain insurance.


Romney has often said that he never raised taxes in Massachusetts, although there are several instances where he referred to the health care penalty as a “tax.”

In a 2009 op-ed in USA Today, Romney wrote, “using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages ‘free riders’ to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others.”

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who was also participating in the Obama campaign’s Friday morning conference call, also criticized those who were calling the penalty a tax.

“They’re retreating to the last bastion of scoundrels, which is to try to cast this as some sort of tax increase,” O’Malley said. “It would only affect 2 percent of the entire public, if that. And it’s a penalty.”

O’Malley said Maryland was already taking many of the steps needed to implement the new law, and he added that he didn’t know when – or if – his Republican counterparts would do the same.

“I suppose some of our colleagues would like to get out of being members of the union -- and by that I mean the United States,” O’Malley said. “So who can predict what some of the ideologues on their side of the aisle will choose?”

In a separate conference call, two Republican governors – Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Bob McDonnell of Virginia – said they would hold off on implementing the law, in the hopes that Romney will repeal it.

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.
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