Tax Bill Comes Due For Obamacare

My one-year experiment with Obamacare ended on tax day with me writing a check to the IRS for $5,424.

More than half of that – $3,000 – went to reimburse the government for an Affordable Care Act health insurance policy that provided me little in the way of medical coverage.

It didn’t bother me to pay my share of taxes – $2,424 – on income I made through freelance work. I knew I would owe something at the end of the year so I budgeted for it.

But that $3,000 for Obamacare?

Go over to the White House’s website and read their cheery interpretation:

“Five years ago, the Affordable Care Act became law – opening the doors to affordable, quality health insurance for millions of people. And today, we learned that, thanks to the health care law, about 11.4 million Americans are signed up for private health coverage that suits their needs.”

How many of those 11.4 million Americans have found that Obamacare is neither affordable nor quality? I know I’m not the only one.

My problem with the private health insurance plan that I signed up for through the federal health exchange was that it had a $5,000 deductible. Coverage was minimal until you met the deductible. The Bronze plan under Moda Health (the same outfit that blew $40 million on naming rights for a sports center in downtown Portland) left me feeling like I had no insurance. Consequently, I never even sought a primary care physician.

The one and only time I had to go to a doctor – an ophthamologist – his office offered me the uninsured discount because it was cheaper than the coverage offered by my Moda Bronze Plan. By paying out of pocket I knew it would not count towards my high deductible, but my insurance coverage was so inadequate I treated it like a catastrophic plan – I would use it only if I absolutely had to.

Under my Moda Bronze Plan, each month I paid them $112, which was tolerable for an inadequate health insurance plan. My monthly government “subsidy” was $383. Add it up, though, and the monthly total cost for my Obamacare plan was $495. That’s outrageous for a lousy health insurance plan. Moda liked it, though.

My subsidy was calculated on my anticipated earnings for the coming year. However, I made more than expected. As a result, I had to pay the entire subsidy back.

The young woman who worked on my taxes was sympathetic. Her father does not have employer-provided insurance and was afraid Obamacare would prove too expensive; he opted to go without insurance and pay a penalty. (Next year the minimum $95 penalty goes up to at least $325 if you don’t have insurance.)

I’m someone who has previously had excellent, employer-provided health insurance. The intent of Obamacare was to make that kind of group insurance available to individuals and small businesses. How did my Obamacare individual plan compare to the group plans I’ve had?

When I was laid off from my newspaper job in Spokane, Wash., under COBRA I paid almost $500 a month for superior insurance that included vision and dental. When COBRA ran out, I had to move to an individual plan. None of them were great, but I settled on LifeWise Washington, where I paid $388 a month (no vision or dental). By comparison, the individual plan I had in Washington was cheaper and better than the plan I had in Oregon under Obamacare.

As 2014 wound down – before I knew the tax damage – I was informed my monthly premium under my Obamacare Moda plan would be going up by at least $50. I decided not to renew.

That’s when the pleas started. Moda wanted me to stay in “the Moda family.” They wanted to remain my partner “on a journey to better health.”

Instead of stating in straightforward terms specifically what they had to offer, here’s what their sales pitch was: “Great rates, nice personality. Moda Health plans are not like other plans. They’re a bit more personal, and you might even say inspiring. We also provide some of the best rates around. If you want solid coverage, healthy tools and caring customer service, you’re in the right place. … Together, we can be more. We can be better.”

Who writes that drivel? Probably someone desperate for a job that provides decent insurance.

Moda Health finally realized I didn’t want to be part of their family. Then started wooing me: “You could save: 8 out of 10 people who enroll in 2015 coverage are getting financial help. Millions have already signed up.”

Finally, sent warnings. The last one came this week:

“April 15 is the deadline to file your taxes. There is only 1 day left! If you owe a fee on your taxes for not having health coverage in 2014 and don’t yet have health coverage for 2015, you may still be able to get covered for 2015. The Health Insurance Marketplace is providing individuals and families who need to pay the fee when they file their 2014 taxes with one last chance to get covered for 2015.

“This is too important to put off. If you don’t have coverage for the remainder of 2015 you’ll risk having to pay the fee again next year. The fee for people who don’t have coverage increases in 2015 to $325 per person or 2% of your household income – whichever is greater.”

The problem with Obamacare cannot be blamed only on Obama. How many Republican presidential candidates want to help make it better?

A commenter named David Appell posted on Cascade Policy Institute website last month: “I don’t understand why so many conservatives are against people getting subsidies for health insurance. Can someone explain that?”

Nobody at Cascade Policy Institute (a nonpartisan, free-market think-tank) answered that question.

All American taxpayers, whatever their political affiliation, help subsidize medical research and facilities that they may not be able to afford. (See “Intoxicated by Money.”)

Everybody who lives a normal life span – whatever their political affiliation – will eventually have a health problem and need medical care. Why do Republicans cede the issue to Democrats?

Both parties need to address high medical costs, which are related to many causes and cut across political lines: insurance-related administrative costs; medical errors; unhealthy lifestyle choices; lack of preventative care; health care fraud and waste; expensive and overrated medical procedures; poverty; human greed.

Public ignorance, too. Like a lot of people, when I enjoyed employer-provided health insurance, I never really paid attention to how it worked, how much it really cost or what went on behind the scenes. A friend of mine, who managed HR benefits for a metropolitan city, explained to me how employers negotiate with insurance companies. This is why group policies are cheaper and provide better coverage.

Why should individuals be punished for not belonging to a group?

Shortly after I decided to drop Moda and pay the fine next year, my  part-time employer told me I qualified for its group insurance. I’m back (for now) to enjoying the benefits of group insurance – lower rates, better coverage.

My personal gain does nothing to improve health care in America, and I can’t shake the feeling that I’m really not insured.

– Pamela Fitzsimmons


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