President Barack Obama told a fundraising crowd in his hometown of Chicago that Obamacare, known mostly for the individual mandate, is simply a free-market tool “to encourage people to buy insurance.”

Obama says individual mandate is simply meant to encourage people to buy insurance

President Barack Obama waves to a small crowd of supporters after arriving at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Thursday, May 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

“Encourage” is an interesting characterization of what both Republicans and Democrats consistently called a “mandate” during the debate over the Affordable Care Act, and during the legal fight that went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2012 that the mandate was constitutional as a tax. The law also contains subsidies for lower income Americans to purchase health insurance, which would be a carrot for some to buy insurance, and a stick for all who didn’t.

Although the health law relies on penalties to get people to buy private insurance plans, the Merriam-Webster definition of “encourage” is “to make (someone) more determined, hopeful, or confident,” “to make (something) more appealing or more likely to happen,” or “to make (someone) more likely to do something : to tell or advise (someone) to do something.”

In 2014, the penalty for an adult without insurance is $95, and $47.50 per child – or 1 percent of a household income, whichever is greater. That penalty increases to $325 per adult and $162.50 per child, or 2 percent of a household income – whichever is greater. In 2016 the penalty rises to $695 per adult, $347.50 per child, or 2.5 percent of a household’s income. After 2017, the fine increases with the rate of inflation.

The financial penalties perhaps would meet the third definition of encourage: “to make (someone) more likely to do something : to tell or advise (someone) to do something.” Meanwhile, the Medicaid expansion would also likely fall under the traditional definition of encourage, at least for those who qualify.

Nevertheless, the Obamacare law is most known for the mandate that individuals buy insurance either through their job, through subsidies if they qualify or through the marketplace exchanges on Healthcare.gov and in the states. The law further mandates that all employers with more than 50 workers provide government-approved health insurance plans.

Obama spoke Thursday night at a private home in Chicago at a fundraising event for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee where he was critical of Republicans.

“They operate on a single theory — which is, if government is dismantled and folks at the top can do more and more without restraint, that everybody else is going to benefit from it,” Obama said. “I don’t know if they actually believe it, but that’s what they say and this is not a situation of equivalence where the Democrats are this far-left crazy group and we’re not willing to meet in the middle.”

“If you need a better example than that, take a look at a health care law that uses the private sector to encourage people to buy insurance and has brought health care inflation down to its lowest rate in 50 years,” Obama continued. “And you would think that I had dismantled the entire free-market system — despite the fact that we now have somewhere between 13 and 15 million people who have insurance now that didn’t have it before. So I need a new Congress. But at a minimum, I’ve got to have a Democratic Senate.”