Uh oh: Democrats want an Obamacare enrollment extension

This might come as a shock, but it seems that the Affordable Care Act’s federal web portal encountered some technical hurdles in the crucial final weekend before the close of the latest open enrollment period. Many consumers who sought to sign up for the ACA’s coverage, perhaps in response to President Barack Obama’s selfie stick shtick, faced a “glitch” in the system that prevented them from enrolling.

“The problem popped up the day before a Sunday deadline to sign up for subsidized private health insurance. It had been intermittent, meaning some people were able to complete their applications and submit them, Health and Human Service Department spokeswoman Katie Hill said,” the Associated Press reported.

Buried in the fifth paragraph of a Fiscal Times story surrounding Healthcare.gov’s persistent inability to function is the costs that taxpayers are expected to shoulder for this debacle. The construction of the ACA’s federal web portal and the subsequent repairs this site required have to date cost the country… wait for it… $2.2 billion. For a website. As recently as last summer, Healthcare.gov had only cost the government $840 million. Apparently, the costs associated with maintaining this site have nearly tripled.

By way of context, the tech site Executionists.com estimated in 2014 that the average large-size business’s e-commerce site with all the bells and whistles could cost between $14,7000 and $29,900 to design, construct, and launch.

Those users who were faced with a “glitch” in the system will be allowed a special extended enrollment period despite the fact that open enrollment officially ended on Sunday.

But some congressional Democrats are lobbying the White House to extend the enrollment period for all uninsured taxpayers. Why? This year, millions of uninsured will face a series of tax penalties for failing to purchase health insurance for the first time.

“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,” a Fox News report read. “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.

First of all, if these constituents only just learned about the heavily publicized fines associated with not purchasing health insurance now, they only have themselves to blame. The truth of the matter is not so much that these consumers will discover that they have to pay fines this year, but that the burden of that penalty will be substantially more significant than they were led to believe.

Via CNN Money:

The penalty is $95, or 1% of income above a certain threshold (roughly $20,000 for a couple). So you could end up owing the IRS a lot of money.

Take a married couple with $100,000 in income – their bill comes to $797, according to the Tax Policy Center ACA penalty calculator.

The penalty for remaining uninsured rises to the larger of $325 or 2% of income in 2015.

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.

“The biggest misconception I hear people say is, ‘Oh the penalty’s only $95, that’s easy,’” an H&R Block tax preparer told CNN in January. He noted, however, that a couple making a combined income of $65,000 will have to pay nearly five times that amount in penalties. “In this situation, it’s almost $450,” the tax preparer noted.

If the GOP cannot take advantage of the political opportunity provided by the Democrats’ bait and switch, they don’t deserve to be in the business of politics. The Affordable Care Act will not jump onto the front pages of America’s newspapers unless the political opposition makes an issue of this onerous burden on America’s least economically secure families.

The Democratic Party and their media allies are committed to Obamacare’s success, and polling indicates that most Americans would like to see Congress repair the ACA if a key subsidy provision is struck down by the Supreme Court this summer. It is up to the GOP to explain to the nation why, in that eventuality, it would be in the public’s interest to allow Obamacare to collapse of its own weight and replace the program with something that is both sustainable and less taxing (literally and figuratively).