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EDITORIAL: Desperate Democrats seek Obamacare sign-up extensions

Americans have more time to sign up for Obamacare. And they might get more time beyond that, if some congressional Democrats have their way.

Why would Democrats want this? Is it because they are extremely concerned about the health of Americans and want to make sure the uninsured get coverage? The truth isn’t so noble. Those lobbying for the extension are more concerned about the health of their political careers.

An untold number of people who tried to sign up for health coverage via the Affordable Care Act’s federal web portal experienced glitches and long waits during the final weekend of signups. Some applications went through. Hundreds of thousands didn’t make the Feb. 15 enrollment deadline, which guaranteed coverage by March 1 — and guaranteed immunity from the ACA’s penalty tax on 2015 federal returns. Those who couldn’t complete applications because of the 11th-hour online stampede for coverage — including affected Nevadans — got an extension through this Sunday.

But for those who didn’t even try to sign up or forgot to, but still want to, all is not lost. USA Today reported this week that special enrollment periods have been offered in some states and are being considered in others because the uninsured finally are learning about the ACA’s tax penalties.

Which means Democrats, who passed the Affordable Care Act without any Republican support and were dealt huge losses in last year’s elections as a result, face another election-year Obamacare nightmare in 2016. For 2014, the penalty tax for the uninsured is $95 per person or 1 percent of annual household income, whichever is higher. For 2015, however, the tax rises to $325 per person or 2 percent of household income, whichever is higher. Democrats are rightly terrified that millions of Americans will be drilled by the a much bigger penalty during next year’s income tax filing season — which coincides with presidential primaries and caucuses.

For the 2016 tax year, the penalty tax increases to $695 per person or 2.5 percent of annual household income. Ouch.

Meanwhile, huge numbers of Obamacare enrollees who received subsidized insurance are being told they have to pay back some or all of their subsidies as part of their 2014 federal tax returns. They’ve learned the hard way that sometimes, Obamacare subsidies are nothing more than taxpayer-funded, no-interest loans. Subsidy eligibility is based on a recipient’s income. Recipients who got pay raises, started new jobs, got married or otherwise underestimated their income when they applied for coverage last year are paying back subsidies this year — and being hit with higher premiums going forward to boot.

Those who experienced significant life events were supposed to contact their exchanges so their premiums could be recalculated. Some didn’t know. Others simply didn’t bother. Many of those who have to pay back their subsidies are thinking twice about signing up this year. This cycle will repeat annually.

If we’ve learned anything about Obamacare, it’s that the bad news never ends. First it was the cancellations of millions of policies Americans were told they could keep. Then came the massive premium increases when Americans were assured costs would go down. Millions of Americans had to find new doctors because their providers weren’t included in new plans. And now more technical problems and higher taxes, with even higher taxes coming.

Did we mention the ACA employer mandate takes effect this year?

The fact that Healthcare.gov apparently still can’t handle peak traffic — despite constant repairs and astronomical maintenance costs now in the neighborhood of $2.2 billion — is bad enough. But rolling out something called the Affordable Care Act, and then forcing people to overpay for lousy, not-so-affordable health insurance is even worse. Millions of Americans are stuck with lousy options. Pay more for health coverage with higher deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, or pay higher taxes for going uninsured and hope to avoid hospitalization?

Perhaps the president will allow the opposition to save his party. The Republican Congress needs to move forward quickly with a plan to replace Obamacare — especially if the U.S. Supreme Court guts subsidies in its forthcoming King v. Burwell decision. Obamacare is too complicated and too expensive, and fails to deliver on any of its promises. Americans need health reform that actually insures the uninsured and reduces costs. Allow Americans to buy health insurance across state lines. Allow insurers to offer catastrophic coverage, free of expensive mandates. Instead of penalizing residents for not buying coverage, give Americans tax credits if they lack employer-sponsored coverage and purchase an individual policy. Give Americans more choices and access to more providers. Make insurance pay for unexpected costs, not routine care and office visits.

Still worried about not signing up? You’re not as worried as Washington Democrats.

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