If you want to read the relevant documents they are here, here, and here. Here is how I break it down.
The March 5th memo states:
On December 19, 2013, CMS issued guidance indicating that individuals whose policies are cancelled because the coverage is not compliant with the Affordable Care Act qualify for a hardship exemption if they find other options to be more expensive, and are able to purchase catastrophic coverage.3 This hardship exemption will continue to be available until October 1, 2016, for those individuals whose non-compliant coverage is cancelled and who meet the requirements specified in the guidance.In English: hardship for cancellations extended. The footnote links to the actual December 19 memo which applies only to cancelled policies that did not meet the ACA standards. The actual change in policy is that the exemption for cancelled policies is extended to 2016. The WSJ makes the point that there seems to be a lax standard for proving that one's cancelled coverage is a reason to opt out. But that depends on how much scrutiny HHS gives to such hardship applications. Not mentioned is the real possibility, in my view, that such applications may be denied. Also, it is clear that the rule change only applies to exemption category 13, cancellations on the HHS Exemption Form. This makes the sub-headline misleading: HHS quietly repeals the individual purchase rule for two more years. What is not discussed in the article is that the cancellation process is different from other processes, because the individual must submit the hardship exemption to another insurer who offers catastrophic coverage before the exemption can be considered.
So what of the realities of the individual mandate. Hardship exemptions do seem fairly easy to obtain, but the rub is that since the process is so arcane, no one is going to know how to do this ahead of tax filing time. As a matter of fact, it seems likely that only the better educated and therefor more well off will file an exemption. Here are some comforting words from the HHS on getting your exemption, from the "What happens next?" part of the form.
Except for cancellations, send your complete, signed application to the address on page 4. We’ll follow-up with you within 1–2 weeks and let you know if we need additional information. If you get this exemption, we’ll give you an Exemption Certificate Number that you’ll put on your federal income tax return. If you don’t hear from us, visit HealthCare.gov, or call the Health Insurance Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596. See page 4 for next steps for cancellations.
So what if you just don't pay? Here is what the IRS has to say about that:
The IRS routinely works with taxpayers who owe amounts they cannot afford to pay. The law prohibits the IRS from using liens or levies to collect any individual shared responsibility payment. However, if you owe a shared responsibility payment, the IRS may offset that liability against any tax refund that may be due to you.
So, you are better off owing the feds taxes, which I have always told people, because they can't impose a lien.
How much of an actual mandate still exists is a matter of conjecture and based on unknown future behavior of citizens and the HHS. This is a set up for both tyranny and revolt.