Commentary

Wilson: Obamacare leaves landscaper out on a limb

November 15, 2013 

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The twenty-something who came to our place in Falconbridge last week to replace a bridal wreath bush damaged by imprudent pruning was as down-home North Carolina as they come, nice to a fault.

But it soon became evident that he was worried, and that worry turned out to be health insurance, or rather looming lack of it.

Another victim of the Affordable Care Act? Yes, and seeing no way to afford a costlier health insurance policy once the individual Blue Cross policy he now has expires at the end of the year.

You don’t make a lot of money as a supervisor in the landscape business, even if your employer has a nationwide reach. The young man has been paying $100 a month for catastrophic insurance – he’s one of the “invincibles” – but now he’s faced with either paying $250 a month for his company’s coverage or coughing up a $95 penalty to the IRS in 2014.

For a young worker, paying an extra $1,800 a year – bam!, just like that – is the equivalent of a substantial tax hike. He says he can’t do it, and I have no reason to doubt him.

As the unforeseen consequences of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, unfold for millions of Americans who really believed relief was at hand for high health insurance premiums, the predicament of the young landscaper brought the whole shebang into sharp focus for me.

I’m 71 and wrapped in the cocoon of a Medicare Advantage plan (well, wrapped until the Obama administration puts the torch to it), so I’m somewhat insulated from sticker shock.

However, for many North Carolinians still in the work force, the seismic upheaval in health insurance on Oct. 1 has left them dazzled. In fact, according to reports only one Tar Heel had enrolled in ObamaCare as of Nov. 8, and that individual had not paid. So technically, that person wasn’t enrolled at all.

If the mind-boggling problems with HealthCare.gov were the only issue, I doubt that many people would be so livid about Obamacare. But the web site debacle was a merely the prelude to middle-class Americans’ realization that an overreaching federal government was dropping an anvil on them.

Of course, as in any big expansion of federal power – in this case affecting one-sixth of the economy – there will be winners and losers. Or as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius reportedly said, some live, some die.

The winners here and elsewhere are those low-income Americans who qualify for a federal subsidy to help pay for their health insurance. Even then that coverage may be the Bronze level, better than catastrophic insurance but not by much.

To compare the rollout of Obamacare to the shock and awe of the Hindenburg disaster is no exaggeration. Never has a federal social services program crashed and burned like this one.

How it will all unfold, one can only guess. The scramble is on in Washington to fix it, finagle it or forget it. Finagle may be the operative term.

Meanwhile, what about the young landscaper? He’s 25 and his mother works. He can go onto her health insurance policy until he’s 26. That’s assuming her policy doesn’t go belly up, too.

After 26, it’s back to the real world. Maybe he’ll qualify for a subsidy by then. If not, there’s always the emergency room.

Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.

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