The individual mandate, and whether Mr. Obama’s law can survive if the mandate is ruled unconstitutional, were at the center of theSupreme Court clash last month during three days of oral arguments.

But some analysts argue that the economics of the mandate and the penalty make the focus of the debate misguided.

Starting at $95 per person, the penalty is scheduled to gradually increase by 2016 to either $695 for individuals and $2,085 for families or 2.5 percent of total taxable income — much less than what many can expect to pay for the cheapest plan on the new insurance exchanges.

And few Americans are expected to even have to face that choice: A report by the Kaiser Family Foundation says that almost everyone else will be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, individual insurance or employer-sponsored coverage in 2014 when the penalty goes into effect.

Others will be excused because of financial hardship, leaving only about 10 percent of Americans weighing whether to buy insurance or pay the penalty.

“You add all those together, you really have a narrow band of population,” said Ron Pollack, director of Families USA. “At the end of the day, the number of people likely to be affected by this penalty is very small.”

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