Fun with Obamacare
Having raised a few conservative eyebrows with that title, let me clarify from the outset that I do not support ObamaCare. On the contrary, I fervently believe that this horrible new entitlement must -- and will -- be torn out by its roots, stomped to a bloody pulp and consigned forever to the legislative hell whence it came.
But that doesn't mean one can't exploit -- and have some fun -- with the law in the meantime. After all, it's not often that one is gifted with a law so badly conceived, so convolutedly written, that one can use the law to one's advantage and bring it down at the same time.
Unfortunately, the strategy I'm about to describe may not be available to those of you laboring in the land of employer-paid wages, W 2 Forms and withholding, though I would love to be wrong, so talk to your accountant. And of course, if you're one of those folks who get insurance from your employer and for whom President Obama's promise that "if you like your insurance you can keep it," does not ring hollow, you're fine, just where you are. At least for now, anyway.
But those of you who, like me, are self-employed, will want to pay attention to what follows, with this caveat: I am neither an accountant, nor a lawyer and I am not urging you to do anything without first consulting one or the other, or both.
Okay, confident that the above caveat sufficiently covers all the appropriate posteriors, including mine, here are the two key elements of ObamaCare to consider:
1. There is no punishment for refusing to pay the "Obamacare tax' imposed on those who do not buy health insurance.
2. No one can be refused health insurance coverage for a pre-existing condition;
The "ObamaCare tax," of course, is what was formerly called a penalty until Chief Justice John Roberts rechristened it a tax. (By the way, for what it's worth, and having read the opinion, I think the Chief got it right, but I digress.) But whatever one calls it, the bottom line is, the federal government cannot punish anyone, in any way, for refusing to pay it. It can only deduct the tax from your refund. If you have one.
So... don't have one. Arrange your financial affairs so that you when you file your tax return, you're not entitled to a refund. Easier said than done, perhaps, for the average wage earner, who has a portion of his wages withheld from each paycheck before he receives it. But for those of us lucky (to the extent that paying 15.3% Social Security tax can be considered "lucky") enough to be self-employed and make quarterly estimated payments, it's a piece of cake, or at least it is for me. As a self-employed person, with variable income, I am not required magically to predict how much I will earn this year and prepay the tax; I am required to pay only 90% of what I earned last year.
The point being that unless I earn, in any year, less than 90% of what I earned in the preceding year (admittedly, not inconceivable while Obama is president), I will not get a refund. Indeed, in all my self-employed years, I have never gotten a refund. And if I do not get a refund, the IRS has no source from which to seize the tax. Again, there is no punishment, criminal or otherwise, for failing to pay the ObamaCare tax. The government cannot prosecute me, it cannot jail me, it cannot seize my property; it cannot garnish my wages, it cannot do anything.
And the insurance companies cannot refuse to insure me for a pre-existing condition. So if the government cannot punish me for not buying insurance today, and insurers cannot refuse to insure me tomorrow, why be a sap?
When 2014 rolls around and ObamaCare fully takes effect, I intend to drop my current self-financed ($394/month as I write this, sure to increase at renewal) catastrophic health-care plan and redirect my monthly $350 Health Savings Account contributions (which will no longer be allowed after I drop my insurance) to my SEP or Roth IRA. Or maybe I'll just buy myself something nice. Obama and Bernanke want me to spend, don't they?
And if I ever do contract some really horrible, catastrophic disease that, say, causes me to lose all my senses or vote Democratic (pardon the redundancy), I can always, thanks to Obamacare, apply for health insurance then. Heck, I might even get the insurance for free: As I write this, I'm 61 years old, so depending on how sick I am, there's at least a chance that I could be dead before any lawsuit for nonpayment of medical bills could wind its way through the courts. Come to think of it, by the same token, maybe the legal counsel would be free, too. Might that money not be better spent on, say, a cute nurse to change my bedpan and perhaps provide a few... umm... ancillary end-of-life-enhancing services?
Or I could just save the money to do what I should be doing -- and will be doing, once ObamaCare is gone: buying my own health insurance, with the services and from the firms that I choose, in a free market. Though I must confess that the cute-nurse alternative does sound better -- actually, a lot better.
In conclusion, (he said, covering his ass one last time), let me repeat that I am not urging or even advising anyone to do any of the above. I'm just hypothesizing a scenario, an example, what we call in the vernacular a "fer-instance".
On the other hand, as fer-instances go, I think this one's pretty good.