But it's not that scary.
The mandate penalty "applies only to the limited group of taxpayers who choose to spend a substantial period of time without coverage despite having ready access to affordable coverage," HHS said in a fact sheet on the new rules.If you have a short lapse in coverage, you don't need to worry about the long arm of the law tracking you down. If you lose your job and lose coverage, the IRS won't be at your door. If you don't make enough money to be required to file federal income taxes, you're not going to be fined, though subsidized health insurance will be available to you on the exchanges that will be set up next year. If you have an enlightened enough governor, you might also possibly qualify for the expanded Medicaid program. And if you live in a state without an enlightened governor and you would otherwise qualify for the expanded Medicaid, you will not be subject to the fines if you don't get coverage.
The same fact sheet also noted findings from the Congressional Budget Office that less than 2 percent of the American public will have to make a payment under the mandate.
In 2014, people who choose not to buy insurance and don't quality for an exemption from the mandate will have to pay a fine of $95. The penalty increases to $695 by 2016, and then rises annually based on a pre-determined formula.
If you can't buy insurance for less than nine percent of your annual salary, you won't be subject to the fines. If you turn down coverage at the beginning of the year because you can't afford it, but then your finances change to make it affordable later in the year, you will still be exempt from the mandate.