Determined to get as many people as possible covered, lawmakers first proposed fines of as much as $3,800 per family for health insurance scofflaws. But they have been steadily scaling back the penalties, with the Senate Finance Committee last week dropping them to $1,500 maximum per family in their version of a health care bill. The committee also phased the penalties in over five years with no fines at all in the first year and eliminated all criminal and most civil punishments for failure to pay.
The industry -- counting on millions of more Americans buying insurance -- says the penalties are now so weak they practically beg to be ignored. The result, the companies warn, is that people would wait until they get sick to buy coverage. That would raise premiums for everyone else, since Congress' health care overhaul would also require insurers to take all applicants.
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