I've seen a lot of confusion online about what the difference is between taxing people and then giving a rebate if you own insurance, and mandating people purchase insurance and penalizing them if they don't.
The mandate requires you to purchase a specific subset of health insurance policies if you don’t otherwise have one that qualifies.
The penalty is collected by the IRS from certain people who aren’t following the mandate.
Congress could remove the penalty portion of the law completely and the mandate portion would still exist and still be unconstitutional.
Many are confusing an enforcement mechanism for the law (the penalty) with what the law requires people to do.
If Congress changed it to a tax break if you own qualifying insurance, you can not own insurance and still be obeying the law, you just don’t get the tax break.
Would people ignore the law a lot more if there was no penalty? Sure, that’s why they put the penalty in there, but that doesn’t change what the law requires, just how well it will be enforced.