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Obamacare individual mandate: Tax or penalty?

In the aftermath of Thursday’s Supreme Court decision to uphold the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, Democrats and Republicans have been waging a war or words on whether the provision involves a tax or a penalty. The confusion appears to reside in the way Justice Roberts legally classified the individual mandate provision. By the letter of the law, the individual mandate could only be allowed to stand as a tax. But it does not fit the usual definition of a tax because it is not based on income or earnings.