As Obamacare Continues Sinking, Americans Continue Losing

The following column (by me) originally appeared at the MacIver Institute.

The mainstream media seems fixated on the insider politics surrounding repealing and replacing Obamacare, but the average person couldn’t care less about parliamentary procedures and intra-party squabbling. They’re faced with an inescapable reality: healthcare is unaffordable and inaccessible thanks to Obamacare. The question they want answered is: What is the point of having insurance if you can’t afford to use it?

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The out-of-touch media coverage reminds me of the apocryphal tale about elite passengers on the Titanic arguing over the bar tab as the ship takes on water. Meanwhile, the people in steerage are stuck behind those gates trying to escape before the water reaches their heads.

The water is rising fast. In 2017, the average premium increase on the individual market in Wisconsin was 16 percent. One of the most egregiously expensive plans was in western Wisconsin, costing $51,000 per year in premiums for a couple unfortunate enough to be in their 50s with three children.

The cost of Obamacare plans is staggering. In a report last year that scoured the federal database of 2017 premiums in Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute found that a family of four would fork over an average monthly premium of $1,609.11 for a platinum plan – $19,309.32 per year – while a mid-level silver plan would cost them $1,297.02 in average monthly premiums, or $15,564.24 per year

Deductibles – the out of pocket cost of using your health insurance – also keep spiraling upward. For a top-tier platinum plan in Wisconsin, we found the average deductible is $900 for a family and $450 for an individual.

However, for a mid-level silver plan, the average deductible is $7,015.71 for a family and $3,491.92 for an individual. The average catastrophic plan deductible will be $14,300 for a family and $7,150 for an individual. That’s not cut-back-on-Starbucks money, that’s bankruptcy court, even for those earning a decent salary.

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Obamacare proponents constantly point to the number of people they claim are insured because of Obamacare. But conflating health insurance with access to actual health care is looking through rose-colored glasses. In the real world, Obamacare decimates household budgets, especially middle class families who don’t receive federal subsidies and are whipsawed by the full cost of both premiums and deductibles.

Despite the double digit price spikes and astronomical deductibles in Wisconsin, we drew the long stick compared with our neighbor across the Mississippi River. Minnesotans on the individual exchanges got stuck with premium hikes as high as 67 percent in 2017.

In response, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and the Legislature were forced to bail out 123,000 middle class families to the tune of an additional $313 million in taxpayer money.

“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” President Obama said in PolitiFact’s 2013 Lie of the Year. In Minnesota, that lie came with the added asterisk that taxpayers have to come to your rescue after finding out your state’s politicians fell for a federal “free money” scam.

Fortunately, Gov. Walker and Wisconsin’s fiscally conservative legislature were more skeptical of Obama’s P.T. Barnum routine, saving us from a similar fiscal calamity.

The Minnesota example highlights an important and all-too-often overlooked point. If you’re unfortunate enough to make too much money to receive a federal subsidy – like most middle class families in America – you’re on the hook for the entire Minnesota OCARE.jpginflated premiums plus exploding deductibles for your Obamacare plan.

Middle class families stuck with Obamacare are drowning in the exorbitant costs, while poorer families who do receive subsidies can’t even afford to see their doctor because their deductibles are so high that the coverage is little more than a piece of paper. Worse, if you’re so cash-strapped that you choose to go without coverage, the IRS slaps you with a fine.

I recently heard the story of one low-income Wisconsin family of five – a husband, a wife, and three kids under the age of 10. Their punishment for going without insurance for three months last year was more than $800.

Only a nanny-state bureaucrat in a Washington, D.C. corner office would be so divorced from reality that they’d think such punitive policies are somehow fair, right, or just. They should get out of their plush enclaves and see how their policies really affect people. Or better yet, if Congress can get its act together, Obamacare bureaucrats should be standing in an unemployment line.

Obamacare cheerleaders can go on cable news and pen all the columns they want touting the expansion of health insurance coverage, but what good is having health insurance if the deductible alone will send your family into bankruptcy?

Obamacare’s continuing price spiral is caused in part by declining competition across the nation. One-third of counties in the United States have only one insurer this year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Residents in these counties will have only one choice – in other words, no choice at all.

Wisconsin’s Obamacare market lost an average of 1.39 insurers per county from 2016-2017 according to our analysis. Fourteen counties have just one or two insurance companies offering Obamacare plans in 2017.

Competition – which inevitably “bends the cost curve down,” to parody another failed Obama promise – is drying up by the week. Just this month, Aetna announced it would stop selling Obamacare policies entirely next year, citing $381 million in losses in the first quarter of 2017 and $700 million in total losses.

Aetna joins insurance giants Humana and UnitedHealth in completely withdrawing from Obamacare in the wake of massive, unsustainable losses. A network of other non-profit health insurance co-ops established by Obamacare have also folded, taking billions of taxpayer dollars down with them. Out of 23 co-ops, only 4 remain, including Wisconsin’s imperiled Common Ground Co-op, which survived only after a secret infusion of cash.

Insurers’ inability to simply break even on Obamacare plans is the result of far more older, sicker enrollees and far too few younger, healthier enrollees to balance the actuarial tables. Obama should’ve been honest with the American people and said the law depends on younger and healthier people paying exorbitant rates for coverage they don’t need in order to prop up the rickety system he and Democrats rammed through Congress.

Obamacare is in a death spiral. Though the House’s version of repeal and replace narrowly passed – certainly a cause for celebration – Congress remains mired in inaction and Americans remain stuck in quicksand. Reporters wringing their hands over CBO scores and telenovela theatrics should remember that few outside the beltway ultimately care about any of that.

There is no bailing out or patching up Obamacare. It will eventually sink to the bottom of the abyss. When it does, nobody in real America will thank the media for keeping them up to date with irrelevant process stories as they go down with the ship.

Tax Day Reminds Us How Overgrown Government Really Is

The following was originally posted at the MacIver Institute on April 18 – tax day.

It’s that time of year when Americans across the country break out the lawnmowers and pruning shears, ready for life to spring into the trees and flowers, and ready for the chores that come with keeping a tidy yard. It’s also tax day, a time when Americans come together to shovel their hard-earned dollars down the bottomless pit of our country’s wildly overgrown federal government.

All across the country, productive, hard working citizens line up to be shaken down, lest a single nickel of their contribution to the country’s bloated $4.27 trillion-a-year spending spree goes uncollected by the IRS.

Now that the kids have finished finding their Easter Eggs, it’s the adults’ turn to go on a hunt – for the missing chunk of their paycheck that vanishes into thin air every payday.

Some people will get money back, of course, and most of them celebrate the supposed “windfall.” In Wisconsin, the average refund is about $2,400. Nationwide, 111 million Americans got a refund in 2015 totaling more than $317 billion.

But keep in mind, that check from the IRS is money you overpaid in taxes throughout the year – you and millions of other taxpayers simply loaned it to the federal treasury for the year at a zero percent interest rate. It’s quite the deal for the feds, just don’t try pulling that scam on your fellow citizen or you might end up in the slammer.

Others are stuck cutting a check to the treasury, often because they were either too industrious or too poor. Did you make the mistake of withdrawing cash from your retirement, possibly because of a financial hardship? Expect a stiff 10 percent penalty from the IRS on top of regular income taxes.

Or, maybe you made the mistake of not being able to afford health insurance. These days, thanks to Obamacare, you’ll get nailed for that trespass to the tune of $470 on average in 2015. The penalty is designed to increase over the years. Only a DC bureaucrat would think penalizing someone for being broke is good or fair policy.

If you made the mistake of working too hard, such as by putting in overtime, you also may find yourself cashing out your emergency savings account and sending it to Washington. If your regular wage is $20 per hour, and you work an eight hour overtime shift, then on average you’d be forking out 45 percent of that hard-earned overtime pay – $114 – to Uncle Sam, according to the CATO Institute. If you earn a bonus, expect the same treatment by our friends at the IRS.

Maybe you put in extra hours on the side as an independent contractor. For your extra effort, the IRS will be only too happy to soak you for not just regular income and payroll taxes, but also the employer match, an extra 7.65 percent. Better sack away half of that check and pray your car’s transmission holds out a while longer.

Perhaps you’re the unsuspecting owner of a small business who made the mistake of hiring someone in 2016. Hopefully you paid all 7.65 percent of their earnings in withholding taxes and complied with all the other onerous burdens the IRS puts on businesses. Just don’t slip up by making too much profit or you might spend some quality time with an IRS auditor.

Then of course there’s the absurd complexity of the Internal Revenue Code. In a futile attempt to comply with the 70,000 pages of tax code and related rules and regulations, many people hire professional tax preparers, who in turn take a chunk of their refund – in effect a “tax code complexity surcharge” that goes straight to places like H&R Block.

On the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders and other liberal politicians say there’s no reason someone who works full-time should have to live paycheck to paycheck. They then peddle big government schemes as the solution to everything from student loan debt to rising electric bills.

Maybe if government didn’t take so much in taxes in the first place, only to waste it on crony giveaways and bloated bureaucracies, those working people Sanders and friends claim to champion would be able to afford their student loans and utility bills.

But hey, there’s always welfare. Just be careful not to qualify as “rich” by left-wing politicians – not that they’ve ever defined what amount of income they think makes you “rich.” Slapped with the depressing reality of their tax bill, middle class Americans would be right to suspect that the left secretly considers them to be “rich” using their enigmatic standards.

When the income tax was enacted in 1913, the entire tax code was 27 pages long. The income tax at first only applied to one percent of the income of the top one percent of income earners. Nowadays, even lower middle class people must work the equivalent of three or four months of every year before the fruits of their labor are really their own.

Like your lawn, the natural direction of government is to grow bigger and more tangled, sucking up more and more resources. This tax day, let’s demand politicians chop government down to size so hard work and success actually pay off.

Talking Transgender Insurance Protest With Vicki

I spoke with Vicki McKenna on Madison’s WIBA this afternoon about my Wednesday morning at the state’s Group Insurance Board meeting.

Boring, you say? Usually – but this time, a protester interrupted the meeting with a profanity-laced diatribe. She was angry that the board, in charge of taxpayer-subsidized insurance for state employees, no longer would cover gender reassignment surgery (once called a sex change operation) and attendant hormone therapy and other costs that transgender people incur.

Listen here.

Because the video was too explicit for radio, it’s included below. Profanity warning.

Talking Electoral College, Protests With Vicki

I talked with Vicki McKenna on her WIBA show about the Electoral College vote, which took place at the state Capitol yesterday.

I was there to cover the event and document the anticipated antics of the inevitable protesters. Possibly the two most noteworthy protester moments were when one lady screamed “We’re all going to go to war and die because of you!!!” at the electors and another who audibly thanked all the people who came from out of state to help with the protests. RPW and Electoral College chairman Brad Courtney also gives his perspective.

Listen to the podcast here.