March 20, 2014
The Devious Secret of Obamacare
By Bill Hobson
Adventures in Obamacareland, in which our protagonist is:
encouraged to lie and report that he did not have existing health insurance, making the number of uninsured look higher;
discovers new reasons to doubt the numbers of people reported as signing up for Obamacare;
and learns that one of the supposed reasons behind the (Un)Affordable Care Act was a total sham.
First, a little background. Bill Hobson is not my real name. My spouse was concerned that, if I used my real name, the IRS would come after us. A few years ago I would have considered such thoughts paranoid. Now, under Obama's IRS, I suspect that she might be right.
I am a former small business owner and former journalist. I've had individual health insurance policies since 1989, and with the same (major) company for the last fifteen years. As with most folks, I saw my premiums go up incrementally over the years as age and health care costs rose, but nothing like what happened in the past year.
I did not want to sign up for Obamacare. But my individual policy -- my spouse is covered separately -- had risen from $330 a month when the administration imposed this diktat to $437 a month going into 2013, an increase which I really couldn't afford. However, my doctor had told me I would require a medical procedure last year costing a significant amount, so I left the plan in place, planning to switch to a lower-cost, higher-deductible policy. I reckoned that this would bring my monthly premium back to the $330 range. The delay would also, I thought, allow the smoke to clear from the Obamacare power grab.
Little did I know that, when the smoke lifted, it would reveal a charred landscape.
During the course of the past year my monthly premium went from $437 a month to $551 a month, a 24% increase. The company said that these premium hikes were the direct result of Obamacare: specifically because of increased taxes and mandatory expansion of coverage imposed by Doctor O.
(The good news is that contraceptives and maternity care are now covered. However, as a 59 year old male, the only way I might need either is if get a prescription for the little blue pill, which I am not sure is covered.)
I was going to have to change my health insurance or start eating cat food. It should have been called the Unaffordable Care Act.
I started checking into new policies. If I wanted to keep my doctor -- yes, a doctor you trust is important to health care -- the cheapest plan was with the same company I already had. A bronze (lowest cost, lowest benefits under Obamacare's bronze/silver/gold/platinum designations) policy, it would cost $440 a month. That's roughly the same amount I had been paying before last year's Obamacare hikes, but with a deductible -- the amount I'll pay before insurance kicks in -- that is fifty per-cent higher.
I was going to be paying the same amount as I did before the most recent round of Obamacare rate hikes, which I already couldn't afford, for less coverage.
So I went to a couple of websites, just to see if I might be eligible for a tax credit. The online calculators said I would get significant relief. Relief from the same system that imposed the hikes from which I needed relief in the first place.
That is the devious secret to this scheme, of course. The government allowed, probably even encouraged, insurers to raise rates on policies. Now, the only way most folks with individual policies can afford health insurance is to sign on to Obamacare.
Guess what's on the horizon for all of you with group policies.
For a while I considered going naked, just not having insurance, but decided that at age 59 it would be a mistake a) to not have health coverage and b) to be seen naked, in any form, fashion or manner. Thus, complaining, kicking and screaming, I was dragged into signing up for Obamacare.
The process started in November. It was completed in mid-March. Not all of that time was spent signing up for health insurance. I was still hoping I could find another way to afford health insurance, and I wanted to make sure that the problems with the website were ironed out. (They seem to be for the most part, although the site is down a lot. And there are other issues….)
As stated earlier, I went to various websites and used their calculators to figure out if I would qualify for a tax credit before making my decision. The online calculators said I would, so I gritted my teeth, went to the Obamacare website, and applied.
It's a tedious process. In which you're asked any number of questions: Is your spouse male or female? Are you native American? Did you just get out of prison? Have you lost health insurance in the last 90 days? Do you anticipate losing health insurance during the next year? Do you want to use your 2012 income as the basis for projecting your 2014 income?
(For the self-employed, that last one is a real laugher. Anticipating income for the full year is tough enough, but doing it with what, at the end of 2014, will be two-year old data? Yet, those are the last returns the IRS has, since the signup period ends before this year's tax filing does.)
I finished and, as the website clearly states, at the risk of perjury gave my e-signature verifying that I had provided true information.
Finally, I got my result. Despite what every online calculator had indicated, I would not be eligible for a tax credit: the only reason I had gone through the gol-darned process to begin with.
I called the toll-free support number and asked why the website had denied me tax credits. The pleasant-sounding young man who answered took a quick look at my income information and agreed that it looked like I should be eligible. Then he started asking how I had answered the multiple questions the application process requires. When he asked whether I had indicated I currently have health insurance, I said I had … because I do have health insurance.
"Ah," he said, "that may be the problem."
Wait, I said, are you telling me that to qualify for tax credits -- the only reason to sign up on the Obamacare website, as compared to buying directly from the insurance company -- that I can't already have health insurance?
He replied that was correct.
But surely, I maintained, thinking of two people I know of who got tax credits in circumstances similar to mine, I can't be the only self-employed person who's applying for tax credits who already has insurance. How do other people qualify?
There was a pause on the phone line, then the young man said, "Well, I'm sure that not all people give the, uh, correct answer to all the questions."
He didn't say it, but he might as well have added, "Hint, hint."
Thus it was that, on the afternoon of March 6, 2014, a representative of the U.S. Government encouraged me to lie before God and the IRS about my health insurance status when applying for Obamacare.
I was incredulous. And I have since learned that the young man was wrong. I was able to delete the original application and, by ignoring some optional questions, eventually qualified for tax credits.
That deepened my curiosity even more. Why would Obamacare “navigators” encourage applicants to misrepresent their existing insurance status when applying?
A headline in the LA Times this past week answered the question. "Obamacare meeting goal of reducing number of uninsured" it read.
The administration has been taking heat for the last few months for not signing up more uninsured folks, ostensibly the main reason for this disaster. And, after years during which Barack Obama and Kathleen Sebelius have established that the truth doesn't matter -- "If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor" -- when it comes to Obamacare, the ends justify the means. The guy and the gal at the top lied, why shouldn't the guy at the bottom?
Call it trickle down ethics. The fish, as they say, rots from the head down.
How many other folks were encouraged to fill out applications in ways that would make Obamacare figures look better?
I had to complete multiple applications to get the result that I was told to expect. I deleted all but the last application, but how many, if any, of my earlier applications are included in figures reported about completed applications? How many other people's?
Those Obamacare enrollment numbers we're reading are as flimsy as the gowns you put on at the doctor's office.
Through much of this process I've thought about the Georgetown law student who said that tearing apart what was, arguably, the world's best health-care system and replacing it with Obamacare was necessary because she needed her birth control pills paid for, since -- she claimed -- it was a women's health issue.
(Ironically, oral contraceptives are covered under my new Obamacare policy. But condoms -- the birth control device which might prevent the most likely health risk for sexually active women, STD's - -are not covered.)
Well, she has her birth control pills paid for now.
Which probably is a good thing.
Because somebody is getting screwed.