The Corner

Obamacare’s Backers Try to Keep People From Noticing the Law’s Downsides, Part #586,206

Uh oh. Per Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar at RealClearPolitics, it may be time for another round of Obamacare shenanigans:

The official sign-up season for President Barack Obama’s health care law may be over, but leading congressional Democrats say millions of Americans facing new tax penalties deserve a second chance.

Three senior House members told The Associated Press that they plan to strongly urge the administration to grant a special sign-up opportunity for uninsured taxpayers who will be facing fines under the law for the first time this year.

The three are Michigan’s Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, and Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, and Lloyd Doggett of Texas. All worked to help steer Obama’s law through rancorous congressional debates from 2009-2010.

The lawmakers say they are concerned that many of their constituents will find out about the penalties after it’s already too late for them to sign up for coverage, since open enrollment ended Sunday.

That means they could wind up uninsured for another year, only to owe substantially higher fines in 2016. The fines are collected through the income tax system.

This year is the first time ordinary Americans will experience the complicated interactions between the health care law and taxes. Based on congressional analysis, tax preparation giant H&R Block says roughly 4 million uninsured people will pay penalties.

Let’s cut through the nonsense. The trio that is proposing this extension knew exactly what they were voting on when they backed the law, and they voted in favor of it anyhow. Meanwhile, those who opposed the individual mandate — including, at one point, Barack Obama — understood that it was a recipe for invasion of privacy and for confusion, and that it would be difficult to enforce properly in a political culture like America’s. Now that good intentions have given way to harsh reality, Levin, McDermott, and Doggett are worried that their constituents will take out their frustrations on them. And so, aware that the law is still a weight around their necks, they are attempting to change the rules in order to help themselves and their party.

One can’t entirely blame them. Indeed, as Noah Rothman points out at Hot Air, if they fail in their quest there are going to be some angry people this time next year:

By 2016, the average fine for those without health insurance coverage will increase to an average rate of $1,100. That’s no small amount of money for individuals or couples who perhaps decided to postpone purchasing health insurance as a result of financial constraints in the first place.

Still, one has to wonder what happened to the notion that the mandate is inseparable from the broader law, and that it cannot therefore be repealed or tweaked without causing serious problems. As we all know, in order to achieve its goal of universal coverage Obamacare requires America’s insurance companies to take customers with pre-existing conditions. In other words, whatever ailments an applicant has at the time of his application, the company has to take him on. Obviously this creates a potential problem, for if insurers cannot turn away those who are already sick, customers can simply wait until they get sick until they sign up for coverage. To avoid this from happening, the architects of the law created narrow time windows within which customers are required to sign up.

Naturally, though, this has the potential to create some political losers, for if people do not take advantage of these windows, they are not covered — even in the event that they become ill. Even worse, they are now charged a penalty — sorry, a tax — for their refusal. This is a disaster for those politicians who have their names on the law. And so, those politicians are doing what all politicians are doing: namely, they are trying to ensure that those who have failed to follow the rules are not punished for their choices, and that those who cannot hurt them are. Who exactly do we imagine would pick up the small premium increases that would result from the uncertainty caused by an extension? That’s right: you would. The general population would. The taxpaying public would. Better to diffuse the costs among a few million people than to enforce the law as it is written. ’Twas ever thus.

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