Obamacare and the Irritation Factor
As we enter 2015, the politics of the president’s health care law are little changed from last year or the year before, or any year since it was passed. The details change with the calendar, but year after year, the law remains a major drag on President Obama’s popularity and legacy.
Defenders of the law commonly known as Obamacare continue to believe the law will eventually become popular and point to a growing number of people with insurance as proof the law is working. Sooner or later, they reason, those who receive insurance through the Health Care Exchanges will express their gratitude in the voting booth.
But that’s not going to happen. Why? Partly because the irritation factor has been and will continue to be far more significant than most advocates of the law want to admit.
The next round of irritation is almost here and will directly impact the people that the president’s team is hoping to win over.
The law provides health insurance subsidies to more than 6 million taxpayers. In general, they are lower-income Americans who file the simplest tax returns — a 1040 EZ.
Now, however, that will not be an option. Instead, all who received subsidies must file a Form 8962, which requires five pages of IRS rules to explain. Among other things, it requires a full accounting including the cost of their premium, subsidy and tax credit. Not only that, the form is to be filled out for each and every month of the year.
This may not seem like a big deal to those who write the rules and are affluent enough to hire someone else to prepare their taxes. But it is unlikely that those receiving health care subsidies have accountants to handle such things.
Adding insult to injury, a substantial number of tax filers will go to all this trouble only to find out that their subsidies were too high and they owe the federal government more money. According to some estimates, more than 3 million people will learn they have to give back some of the subsidies they were counting on.
If this were the only irritating aspect of the health care law, it might be able to survive. But it comes on top of a long list of other irritations. Some were temporary, such as the initial failure of the healthcare.gov website. Some were major one-time events, such as the fact that many people with insurance were not allowed to keep their insurance or their doctor.
But some are ongoing. In recent months, it became clear that everybody who gets insurance through the exchanges will have to go back to the healthcare.gov website every year. Due to complexities in the formula for calculating subsidies, they will either have to select a new plan (meaning they might also have to switch doctors every year) or risk higher out-of-pocket costs.
Changing insurance and doctors every year is a major hassle, to say the least. It’s important to note that these irritations are forced upon the very people that President Obama is counting on to make his law popular.
There are plenty of reasons for people to oppose Obamacare on policy grounds. But politically, the law’s fatal weakness may be the irritation it delivers to those it’s supposed to help.