It’s time to kill the ObamaCare penalty
On Inauguration Day, the next president of the United States should suspend the penalty for being uninsured under ObamaCare.
President Obama promised his law would provide an array of affordable health plans. In 2017, consumers will get neither choice nor affordability. In nearly a third of the nation, only one insurer will offer coverage — that’s no choice at all. And insurance premiums are skyrocketing across the country.
ObamaCare is broken. Slapping ObamaCare refuseniks with hefty penalties (averaging almost $1,000) for not signing up would be unfair, like enforcing a parking ticket when the meter’s broken.
Consumers will be clobbered starting Nov. 1, the beginning of the open-enrollment period. They’ll want to know what Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton intend to do about it. In swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, premiums are rising 30 percent and even as high as 40 percent.
In many parts of Florida, another must-win state, consumers will be forced to sign up for the only insurer in town or get hit with the penalty.
Giant insurers Aetna, UnitedHealth and Humana are quitting most ObamaCare exchanges after losing billions trying to sell the unpopular plans. Wherever only one insurer remains, all patients on ObamaCare will be funneled into that single remaining insurer’s network of doctors, making it nearly impossible to get a doctor’s appointment.
Worse, many of these remaining insurers are primarily in the Medicaid business. ObamaCare will mean paying soaring premiums for Medicaid-level access to care. What a deal.
In Illinois, most ObamaCare premiums are going up more than 50 percent before subsidies. In Tennessee, it’s 62 percent. Individuals earning more than $48,000 or couples earning more than $64,000 have to pay full freight.
It’s highway robbery.
From the start, ObamaCare has made financial sense only for two groups: the very sick or those eligible for a free ride. That’s why more than 11 million people a year are opting to pay penalties instead of buying insurance, as ObamaCare requires.
That is: More people are paying NOT to have it than are signing up for it.
Now, with premiums soaring and choices disappearing, even more people will say “no” to ObamaCare, predicts industry expert Robert Laszewski.
These people shouldn’t get penalized. The same law that imposes the penalty promised them choice and affordability — and is reneging on both.
Does a president have the power to suspend the penalty? Yes. Only Congress can make or change law. I am not suggesting the next president go rogue, like Obama himself did, changing the law 43 times without asking Congress. But the law’s hardship exemptions give the next president a legal opening. Stratospheric premiums and deductibles and no choice are hardships for sure.
Laszewski warns that dropping the penalty “would only make the system implode faster.” True, because the young and healthy will be under no pressure to pay for a raw deal. But why should these individuals be sacrificed to prop up “the system”?
To the collapse of the ObamaCare plans, we should say: good riddance. Twenty million people have gained coverage under the ACA, but the lion’s share are enrolled in
Medicaid, not in these private plans.
They cover at most about 8 million people who were previously uninsured — a small gain compared with hardship on the 11 million who pay the penalty and 5 million or so who had insurance they liked and were forced to give it up to enroll in ObamaCare instead.
ObamaCare architect Ezekiel Emanuel calls for stiffer penalties on the uninsured. Princeton professor Uwe Reinhardt recommends the United States copy how European countries crack down on the uninsured, including garnishing wages.
Yikes. Sounds like the harsh approach Hillary Clinton took in 1993, when she proposed her failed health-care plan. (And no doubt what she’d try again — compulsion.)
But Americans don’t want to be Europeanized, and they won’t march in lockstep into an insurance scheme that takes away their choices. Let’s hope the next president is listening.
Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.