Obamacare is collapsing. Only 10 percent of uninsured Americans who qualify for Obamacare exchange plans are signing up. Even with subsidies to soften the sticker shock, 90 percent of the people these plans were intended to help are saying “no thanks,” according to a survey released last week by management consultants McKinsey & Company. A majority says the plans are too expensive.
The Affordable Care Act requires most Americans to enroll in “essential coverage” by March 31 and attach proof of it when they file their 2014 taxes. The law imposes a tax on those who don’t comply.
Not a mere $95, as widely thought. The tax is 1 percent of your adjusted gross income, with additional taxes for each uninsured child. If you, your spouse and three kids are uninsured, and your income is $75,000, your penalty could add up to $1,750 for 2014. Not chump change, yet not enough to force the uninsured to buy plans. Chief Justice John Roberts warned that a tax steep enough to do that would violate the Constitution.
The upshot is that some of the very people the law was supposed to help will end up worse off — still uninsured and with less money in their pockets. There are two ways to solve their problem — the legal way and the Obama way.
Last week, the House of Representatives tried to legally solve it. The House voted 250 to 160 to postpone the tax for a year. Twenty-seven Democrats broke party ranks to support the measure. But President Barack Obama vowed he would veto it, so it will go nowhere.
Yet, posing as a hero, Obama is likely to do by presidential fiat what he won’t do in cooperation with Congress.
That was his M.O. last week when he announced he would allow people to keep plans that don’t comply with Obamacare’s definition of “essential coverage” for two more years. Sounds good, but whether people will actually be able to keep those plans depends on the decisions of state insurance commissioners and insurers. Most will not permit it. But that’s not the president’s concern. He’s shifted the blame.
The president labeled his change “transition relief.” Some transition. It postpones a key provision for two more years.
Obama will likely use “transition relief” again to waive the tax on the uninsured. But that won’t fly. Obama’s lawyers told the U.S. Supreme Court the tax was essential to the workings of the law. For the president to change it without Congress’s approval would push the nation down the road to lawlessness.
What is to stop the president from manipulating other taxes for political purposes? The Constitution vests the taxing power in Congress to prevent this mischief. Yet already Obama has exempted certain unions from a reinsurance tax that the Affordable Care Act unambiguously imposes, even though the exemption will increase the burden on other parties.
Obama’s fixes are shredding the Constitution one piece at a time. James Madison warned about such “gradual and silent encroachments.”
Obama’s “keep your plan” announcement lends new meaning to “Get Covered.” He’s covering Democrats’ butts — namely Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Warner of Virgina, and Mark Udall of Colorado, all Democrats facing re-election fights. Millions of Americans getting cancellations would make it harder for these pols to win, absent the president’s empty gesture.
Last November, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida boasted that Democrats would be running on Obamacare in 2014. Now they’re running from it.
This break in party ranks is a sign that eventually Republicans and some Democrats may agree on a temporary fix to stop the waste and suffering and presidential overreach. The Obama administration is asking Congress for $600 million in additional funds to improve the hopeless Obamacare website technology. That’s throwing good money after bad.
The outlines of a two-year fix are obvious: Keep popular provisions, like allowing children on parents’ plans until age 26; keep the Medicaid expansion to help the neediest; suspend the dysfunctional exchanges; repeal the employer mandate to save the 40-hour workweek; and repeal the tax on the uninsured, which is proving a 90 percent failure.
All sensible but undoable as long as the president doubles down on his Rube Goldberg health plan.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York and the author of “Beating Obamacare.”