The penalty for being uninsured next year is $95. Again, this is partly true. In fact, the penalty for being uninsured next year is $95 or 1 percent of your income, whichever is higher. So if you make $75,000 a year and you decide to go without insurance, the penalty will be $750. There are a number of things you can do to avoid having to pay it, from deliberately getting your utilities shut off to under-withholding taxes from your paycheck so that they don’t have a refund from which to take out the penalty. But that number is what will go on the books at the Internal Revenue Service, not the $95 you’ve probably heard.
If the exchanges don’t work, as a last resort, we can always get people signed up through call centers. It’s true, there are call centers. But the computer systems at the call centers for states running the insurance exchanges are the same as the computer systems that consumers are having such a hard time with. A nice woman at a federal call center told me that (at least for the state of Florida, where my in-laws live) there is an alternate procedure: They can fill out a manual application in PDF format. But she also told me that it takes three weeks for that application to be mailed to your house. After you receive it, you check the application to ensure it’s accurate, and then mail it in. One to two weeks later, you will be notified of your subsidy eligibility. Then you can actually enroll in a plan, though she wasn’t quite clear on how that part would work — do you call back again?
This may work for older people who simply can’t figure out how to use computers, or for desperately ill people who have been rebuffed by the computer system . . . but so will repeatedly logging in until you finally get the system to work. It is unlikely to get loads of healthy, young, premium-paying folks to sign up for insurance and thereby make this whole thing financially viable. And by the time we’re ready to default to this option, it’s unlikely that there will be enough time to make it work.
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