It’s been a while since we heard from healthcare.gov and the fallout of the law, but we’re approaching the end of the year and the period when most of us will begin looking at our tax situation. For those who were fortunate enough to still have jobs with health benefits (and who got to keep them, as promised) or those who earned so little that they qualified for mostly subsidized Obamacare, they won’t see much of an effect. But by the latest estimates there are still roughly 41 million Americans without insurance who did not enroll in the government plan who are about to pay a stiff penalty to Uncle Sam. Why is that?
This is a question which was of particular interest to me because I know some folks in this situation personally. Are they just so woefully uninformed that they didn’t know about the new law? Are they such haters of Barack Obama that they are willing to incur a significant fine at tax time to spite him? No and no. For most, as with the people profiled in this report from Yahoo Finance, they earned “too much” money for subsidies but just couldn’t afford the unsubsidized premiums.
“I was excited to finally have an opportunity to have insurance,” [Marta Hardy] says. “Then I checked [the marketplace] and I found that the lowest tier Bronze plan was going to run me $725 per month, plus a $6,300 annual deductible. That is a house payment or two car payments for me.”
Hardy decided not to sign up. Come tax time, she, like most people who decided to forgo insurance in 2014, will have to pay for that decision. The penalty this year is 1% of gross annual income or $95 per adult (whichever is greater), plus $47.50 per child.
The report goes on to say that roughly one third of the uninsured cited the cost of the Obamacare plans as the number one reason they had no insurance. Marsha Danley, also featured in the article, makes $68K annually and did not qualify for any subsidy. The premiums would have been $500 per month with a $5K deductible. She might have been able to manage it, but was already $20K in debt with medical bills for her mother which she was paying off. It just made more sense to cough up the $680 at tax time than try to find $6,000 she didn’t have for the Obamacare premiums.
These are not unusual stories. In fact, I don’t know many working class people who could casually take on an additional 500 dollar per month bill if they are already in a tenuous enough professional and financial position that they had been left without insurance to begin with. If they were so flush with cash that they could sock away half a grand per month, they’d probably already have insurance. And what do they get for that payment? A plan where if – God forbid – something does happen, they will have to lay out six thousand dollars in medical bills before the full insurance benefits kicked in.
And they are expected to do this at a time when labor force participation is at an all time low, many work multiple part time jobs, and wages are stagnant for those who have managed to find work. Does this really come as a surprise? But now they’ll get another surprise when their tax bill comes, and it won’t be a pleasant one.