The Fine Print of ObamaCare

Democrats are in a lather over the Obamacare tax penalties soon hitting their constituents. According to the fine print in the law, “ObamaCare’s individual mandate requires that most Americans obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty.” This penalty will be paid on federal income tax returns this coming April. Despite the fact that it’s the IRS collecting this penalty, let’s not call it a tax. Instead, to borrow a favorite Democrat phrase, “pay your fair share”, this penalty is called an “Individual Shared Responsibility Payment.”

Words like “sharing” and “responsibility” are typically reserved for rich, cigar-chomping fat cat Republicans, not Democrat constituents. Hence the outrage of several Congressional Democrats over their rhetorical chickens coming home to roost. Michigan’s Sander Levin, Washington’s Jim McDermott, and Lloyd Doggett of Texas, “Strongly urged the administration Monday to grant a special sign-up opportunity for uninsured taxpayers”, according to the AP.

It seems many Americans were distracted by the finale of Celebrity Apprentice or the Grammy Awards and missed the February 15 deadline to sign up for insurance, or else face the penalty. The penalty is $975 for a family of four, or 2 percent of household income, which is greater. Once the open enrollment period ends, no one can purchase an Obamacare plan until the next enrollment period toward the end of 2015.

Those who were paying attention and enrolled before the deadline are facing their own set of problems. “Insured, but not covered” as the NY Times pointed out. Higher premiums, narrower provider networks, no out-of-network coverage, and larger copays and deductibles. Not quite the initial promises of ObamaCare, including lower premiums, keeping your doctor and your insurance, and no tax increases.

The outrage from members of Congress is ironic. They voted for ObamaCare, including the three Congressmen mentioned above. “All worked to help steer Obama's law through rancorous congressional debates from 2009-2010,” according to the AP. Didn’t they know what they voted for?

Apparently not. Who can forget then-speaker Nancy Pelosi’s warning, “But we have to pass the [health care] bill so that you can find out what’s in it.” Or former Senator Max Baucus, one of the coauthors of the bill admitting, “He did not read the entire piece of legislation.” Anyone think congressmen Levin, McDermott, or Doggett read the bill?

Now they are upset and want this fixed, meaning another waiver or exemption. Never mind the Constitutional question of whether the Executive Branch can unilaterally change existing law. It seems checks and balances only apply to Republicans. ObamaCare has changed like the weather, including a delay in out of pocket caps, delaying the employer mandate, and exempting Congress from ObamaCare. Not to mention over 1200 waivers granted to select companies and organizations.

Will opening enrollment for another month really fix the ObamaCare problems? Sure, a few more people not distracted by the Academy Awards and March Madness may sign up. But they will still face the prospect of purchasing an expensive and lousy policy that requires driving across town to see a pecialist.

Every few years Congress “fixes” or “simplifies” the tax code and the result is anything but. Immigration has been repeatedly “fixed” since the days of Reagan, and it’s now worse than ever. What will an enrollment fix of Obamacare accomplish other than allowing members of Congress to assuage their guilt over passing such a disastrous bill in the first place.

Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based physician, is an advocate of smaller, more efficient government. Twitter @retinaldoctor.

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