OBAMACARE'S critics have long contended the law is an unworkable mess. As major implementation nears, evidence for this charge grows daily. In fact, the question now isn't whether the law as a whole will ever work, but if any single provision of the law can be effectively implemented.
First the Obama administration announced employers wouldn't be required to provide insurance to workers until 2015, regardless of the law's mandate for that to occur in 2014. This raised questions about implementation of the individual mandate, which administration officials said would still go into effect. Under the law, individuals must be able to show that they can't get qualifying insurance coverage through work in order to qualify for subsidies. Now that employers won't have a mandate, the government will lack the records to verify workers are qualified for subsidies.
The administration resolved the question by declaring, in essence, that the government would rely on the honor system. Independent verification of workers' income and insurance access will rarely, if ever, be conducted in 2014.
Now the administration has notified insurers that yet another provision of the law may go largely ignored: mandatory penalties for smokers. Federal Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters calls this “a temporary circumstance that in no way impacts our ability to open the marketplaces on Oct. 1.” In reality, it's a predictable outcome of conflicting mandates in Obamacare.
Under the law, smokers can be charged up to 50 percent higher premiums. But at the same time, insurance companies are required to accept all applicants regardless of pre-existing medical problems. Insurers can't charge older customers more than three times the amount charged to the youngest adults in the insurance pool.
The Associated Press dryly noted, “The government's computer system has been unable to accommodate the two.” That's because premiums for a standard “silver” insurance plan would be an estimated $9,000 annually for a 64-year-old individual with a potential $4,500 penalty for smoking, bringing the total to $13,500. (If the smoker qualifies for tax credits, he can't use them to offset the smoking penalty.) Therefore, the total cost of the insurance, including the smoking penalty, fails to comply with the law's other provision limiting older smokers' premiums.