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New figures on the insurance penalty emphasize need for changes in the law

Critics of the Obama health care overhaul have been saying all along that it will be costly for the middle class, but recent figures from the Congressional Budget Office offer a glimpse into how costly.

Nearly 6 million Americans will be penalized for not getting insurance. It's a number much higher than first estimated and offensive to those who believe individual freedom trumps the mandate for health insurance.

Health care is something we all need, sooner or later. The Obama administration wants all Americans to pay their fair share. The point was argued in the highest court in the land, which ruled 5-4 that what is known as the individual mandate is constitutional because it is merely a tax. Congress has the power to impose that tax and the penalty will be collected by the IRS.

The latest estimate on the number of people who will be affected by the tax, compiled by the nonpartisan CBO, is startling. It is 50 percent higher than the projection by the same office two years ago, shortly after the law passed. As reported by the Associated Press, the earlier estimate found 4 million people would be affected in 2016, when the penalty is fully in effect.

Starting in 2014, every legal U.S. resident is required to carry health insurance or face a penalty (tax), with exceptions for financial hardship, religious objections and certain other circumstances.

Defenders of the mandate say that while 6 million seems high, it is only a tiny fraction of the population, which has more than 150 million people covered by employer plans.

What hurts Obama here is that he pledged during his first campaign for the White House not to raise taxes on individuals making less than $200,000 a year and couples making less than $250,000. But the CBO found that nearly 80 percent of those who will face the penalty would be individuals making $55,250 or less and couples making $115,250 or less. The average penalty would be about $1,200 a year in 2016.

The issue of health care is a centerpiece in this presidential campaign.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney has left little doubt as to the fate of the Obama health care plan if he is elected, although he has swayed back and forth on some of its popular provisions.

His repeal efforts will be helped greatly if Republicans gain control of both chambers of Congress.

By the same token, Obama will have his work cut out if he continues to have to deal with angry House Republicans.

There are portions of the voluminous health care reform that we do not like, particularly the fact that it does not deal with controlling the spiraling cost of health care.

Health care reform has long been necessary, but it should have been done better. Toward that end, the next Congress will have to work with the president toward the greater good and improve the legislation, not kill it altogether.