Filler: The real reason Obamacare won't work

The failure of Obamacare isn't the computer glitches The failure of Obamacare isn't the computer glitches that can make it hard to sign up. It's that you'd be crazy to want to. Photo Credit: Tribune Content Agency / M. Ryder

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Lane Filler Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Lane Filler

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. He came to Long Island in 2010 ...

So the Obamacare exchanges opened up last week, and depending on who you listen to, signing up is as easy as buying a tea cozy that looks like a Boston terrier on Amazon or as hard as juggling greased cobras in the dark.

I decided the only way to know was by trying to sign up at ny.gov. As far as ease goes, it wasn't so bad. Assuming you have by your side every piece of paperwork you've ever acquired, you should be OK. You'll also need every number that's ever been assigned to you, including the ones on the tickets you took the last three times you waited at the Stop & Shop deli.

But I was left with the impression that signing up for insurance under the exchanges is about as hard as signing up for insurance from a company.

No matter whom you're buying health insurance from or who runs the website, they're going to want to know more about you than your spouse would ever care to hear.

The real shock came when, after entering my Social Security number, I was asked to confirm my identity by picking, from multiple-choice lists, a car I once owned, a previous address and a former employer. Each was nestled in among cars I'd never owned, places I'd never lived and employers for whom I'd never worked.

The system knows everything. I would not have been surprised if I'd been asked to pick the one gal from high school who agreed to go out with me (thanks, Principal Sullivan) or the library book ("Finding Work After the Felony") I left on a bus near Provo, Utah.

When a government computer knows the address of the studio apartment you shared with six guys, two snakes and an imaginary wizard after college, the lack of privacy in this world really hits home.

The more important shock was that you'd have to be a mathematical dunce to sign up for Obamacare. A big selling point of the law is that you can't be turned down for coverage even if you have diabetes, or Ebola. It's like being able to buy collision coverage a day after you drive your car through a White Castle. So to make people buy insurance before they get sick, we got the mandate, meaning if you don't buy insurance, you pay a fine.

But the only way the fine would induce me to buy insurance is if it costs more than the insurance. Otherwise the smart non-covered fellow just pays the penalty and holds off on getting a policy until the blood sugar count hits 300.

Bad coverage on the state exchange for my family, with $6,000 deductibles per person, would cost a total of about $9,000 per year. And unless you have a real sickly year, insurance with deductibles that high is just a very expensive form of not having coverage at all. Good coverage would run us about $15,000 per year.

But the maximum fine for refusing to buy coverage is 1 percent of your pay this year, and 2.5 percent in the future. That's because if the plan included fines high enough to induce the purchase of coverage, the law would not have passed. So a family man like me has to make $360,000 per year, once the fine goes up, to make buying even the cheapest coverage a better deal than the fine.

I've run the numbers. There's no scenario, when you can buy insurance after you get sick, in which buying it before you get sick makes economic sense. Open enrollment isn't year-round, so you might face part of a year paying for your own treatment if things go wrong, but with the deductibles on many of these plans, that's true even with coverage.

The failure of Obamacare isn't the computer glitches that can make it hard to sign up. It's that you'd be crazy to want to.Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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