Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Ethics of "Mandate+Penalty" vs. "Tax+Credit"

In regard to the debate on the individual mandate, some people have mentioned that the mandate+penalty scheme is equivalent to a scheme of levying a "health care responsibility tax" on everyone, and giving a tax credit for those who buy an acceptable insurance plan. See, for eg., Ezra Klein, Ed Kilgore and Justice Sotomayor:

"JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Could we have an exemption? Could the government say, everybody pays a shared health care responsibility payment to offset all the money that we are forced to spend on health care, we the government; but, anybody who has an insurance policy is exempt from that tax? Could the government do that?"

So here is my question. Is there an ethical difference between these two economically equivalent options:

Scheme A: A legal requirement for everyone to buy an insurance policy, with a penalty of $1000 for failure to do so.
Scheme B: A health care responsibility tax on everyone of $1000, with a tax credit of $1000 for anyone buying an insurance policy.