As he frequently does, The Washington Post's George Will has written a column that helped to crystallize some thinking of mine with respect to ObamaCare. While we've lost the battle against Obama's government takeover of our healthcare system in the Supreme Court and legislatively, we still have public opinion on our side. And if my instincts and Will's column are correct, we might still be able to bring ObamaCare down using the Left's favorite tactic: civil disobedience.
According to Will, ObamaCare removes a major incentive to purchase health insurance. Yes, you read that right: ObamaCare removes a major incentive to buy health insurance.
My apologies in advance, but in order to make a point broader than the one Will's making -- the one about engaging in civil disobedience -- I'm going to have to back up and bore you with a few personal details.
It will all come together, though, I promise.
How My Wife and I Lost Our Employer-Paid Health Insurance
In July of 2011, my wife and I decided it was time to get out of the failed state of California and return to our beloved home in the mountains of Western North Carolina. This meant she would have to quit her job, the job that supplied health insurance for the both of us. This didn't worry us. A longstanding program called COBRA allows you to hold onto your health insurance for a full 18 months after you leave an employer on good terms.
Paying for insurance through COBRA is extremely expensive, however. Obviously, after you quit a job, your employer is no longer going to subsidize any part of the cost of your insurance coverage. The full freight for this was somewhere around four times what it was before. Still, we desperately wanted out of California and because of my wife's stellar work record and references, we were sure the expense wouldn’t be long-term.
What we didn't count on, though, was just how jobless Obama's jobless recovery really is.
My wife has never in her life had trouble finding a good job. Her skills, personal character, work history, and references have never failed to land her a full-time position with benefits. Until, that is, Mr. Obama and his "recovery" came to town. Months turned into a year, which turned into 18 months, which turned into our COBRA expiring at the end of last month.
Because of a program set up by our state that has nothing to do with ObamaCare, and despite a pre-existing condition that would bankrupt us within a couple of years (within the context of ObamaCare, I've written about my wife's health before), my wife was able enroll into a high-risk insurance pool. It's expensive, but we have no choice and are grateful for its existence.
I, however, do have a choice.
Why I Choose to Be An Uninsured-American
My health situation is a little less complicated than my wife's. Though I'm 46 years-old, because I've been a health-nut for two decades, I'm healthier than most people half my age. But due to some decades-old spinal damage, I do have a pre-existing condition. This means that I too would not be able to purchase insurance in the normal market and would have to join North Carolina's expensive high-risk plan.
This would cost me somewhere north of $5,000 a year.
Thanks to ObamaCare, though, when faced with this crushing reality, I did something I normally wouldn't have otherwise considered. For this first time in 25 years, I chose to explore the possibility of not purchasing health insurance.
Because of my back problems, I have to see a specialist every three months. The visits are expensive and so is the daily medication I've been on for years -- so expensive, in fact, that I was going to buy into that expensive high-risk pool, until…
I made some phone calls.
When I told my doctor I might lose my health insurance, without missing a beat, he cut the price of office visits in half. My pharmacy did something even more remarkable: they set me up on a discount program that -- get this -- cut the price of my medication to where it's now a dollar cheaper per month than it was when I had full-boat health insurance coverage.
Is this a great country, or what?
So here are my options: I can pay less than $800 per year for doctor's visits and medication, or I can pay $5,000 a year for health insurance. But with co-pays and the like, I'd still be paying at least $600 of that $800 on top of the $5,000.
Thanks to ObamaCare, my decision was a no-brainer.
Fact: Until something catastrophic happens, I'm never purchasing health insurance on my own again.
ObamaCare Removes the Primary Incentive to Purchase Health Insurance
Prior to ObamaCare, I never would've considered taking the risk of being uninsured. After all, if something awful should happen, I would be screwed without insurance. A cancer or heart attack could bankrupt me.
Well, not anymore.
Starting in 2014, (according to Will's column) thanks to ObamaCare, you not only cannot be turned down for health insurance due to a pre-existing condition, but by law, the cost of your premiums can no longer be based on your personal health or personal health risk, such as family history.
Under ObamaCare, the cost of premiums will be based solely on age, where you live, and whether or not you smoke.
In other words, thanks to ObamaCare, starting in 2014, if I'm uninsured and fall off a ladder or have a heart attack, I can call an insurance company and get insured at the same price I would've paid had I been dumb enough to have paid all along.
Granted, my decision not to purchase insurance puts me at risk until ObamaCare goes into full effect 11 months from now. But at my age, and based on my personal health and that of my parents, it doesn't feel like much of a risk.
What it actually feels like is being liberated from a trap.
Until yesterday, this was all my own choice and I was nowhere near ready to make my decision public. Then George Will came along:
The point of the [ObamaCare] penalty to enforce the mandate was to prevent healthy people — particularly healthy young people — from declining to purchase insurance, or dropping their insurance, which would leave an insured pool of mostly old and infirm people. This would cause the cost of insurance premiums to soar, making it more and more sensible for the healthy to pay the ACA [Affordable Care Act or ObamaCare] tax, which is much less than the price of insurance.
[Chief Justice] Roberts noted that a person earning $35,000 a year would pay a $60 monthly tax and someone earning $100,000 would pay $200. But the cost of a qualifying insurance policy is projected to be $400 a month. Clearly, it would be sensible to pay $60 or $200 rather than $400, because if one becomes ill, “guaranteed issue” assures coverage and “community rating” means that one’s illness will not result in higher insurance rates.
So, Lambert says, the ACA’s penalties are too low to prod the healthy to purchase insurance, even given ACA’s subsidies for purchasers. The ACA’s authors probably understood this perverse incentive and assumed that once Congress passed the ACA with penalties low enough to be politically palatable, Congress could increase them.
But Roberts’s decision limits Congress’s latitude by holding that the small size of the penalty is part of the reason it is, for constitutional purposes, a tax. It is not a “financial punishment” because it is not so steep that it effectively prohibits the choice of paying it. And, Roberts noted, “by statute, it can never be more.”As Lambert says, the penalty for refusing to purchase insurance counts as a tax only if it remains so small as to be largely ineffective.
In short: Oh, baby!
Oh, hell yes, I'll take the fine.
For decades, and only out of fear of the pre-existing condition clause, I've paid untold thousands for health insurance that I have never needed to a point where I saved any money. Thanks to ObamaCare, though, starting in 2014, that risk is removed and so is my incentive to pay for health insurance I honestly don’t need.
And now, not only am I saving money (and a lot of it), but the side benefit of engaging in a legal act of civil disobedience against Obama and his statist vision, is worth even more -- it's invaluable.
Hopefully, many of you now have your own gears turning.
A Word of Caution
The reason I went into the dit-dit details surrounding my own story, is to make clear that the decision to cancel or choose to not get health insurance is a complicated one that requires a lot of thought and planning. Do not make this decision lightly.
You might also want to wait for added confirmation Will is correct and that Justice Roberts did indeed outsmart Obama.
But if things are as they appear…
The Long Game
If enough of us discover that the responsible decision for ourselves and for our families is to choose the ObamaCare penalty over the ObamaCare mandate that says we must purchase insurance -- if we decide to do the patriotic thing and pay for our own health care in the private economy, we can not only crash the ObamaCare model, but while doing so, improve our country's health care system.
One of the biggest reasons the price of health care is so high is due to health insurance. Because most insurance plans (including the ones ObamaCare mandates we all must own) pay for almost everything, the market is removed from the equation, which means prices explode.
If auto insurance paid for brake jobs, I'll guarantee you a brake job would be four times more expensive than it is today. But brake jobs are relatively affordable because the customer feels the pain of the cost directly, which creates a fierce pricing competition between companies that offer brake jobs. If we merely had to hand over an insurance card to get a brake job, they would probably be as expensive as an MRI.
Just look at what my doctor and pharmacist (or the drug companies) were willing to do when faced with the prospect of losing a customer over a lack of insurance. Suddenly they made their services/products easily affordable.
Funny how that works.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our acts of civil disobedience in choosing to go without insurance and instead pay the ObamaCare penalty, resulted in a separate health care system based on free market prices; and as a result, the cost of health insurance went down for all?
Again a word of caution: That's the Pollyanna version. Unintended consequences of every stripe must be thoroughly thought through.
But any opportunity we might have to restore free market sanity to our health care system is worth considering. There's no question ObamaCare does just the opposite, but if an ObamaCare loophole can finally put a monster down that threatens the fiscal safety of our entire country, a jump through it is worth considering.
And I'm not asking anyone to consider doing what I haven't already done.
Power to the people!
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC