By Esme Murphy

With even supporters of Health Care Reform calling it Obamacare, I guess we can too. And it is heading our way, in a big way, on Jan. 1.

Sure, some provisions have already been in place, including young people under 26 staying on their parents’ insurance. And the White House this week announced the postponement of the requirement for larger employers to provide insurance.

But the mandate that all Americans have insurance will still go into effect on Jan. 1. And that is when Minnesota is predicting 1.3 million people will turn to the state’s new health insurance exchange, MNsure to get health insurance.

The state estimates 300,000 of those currently do not have health coverage. Anyone who does not have health insurance starting Jan. 1 will pay a tax penalty of whatever is greater, $95 or 1 percent of their income. That penalty will increase to $695 or 2.5 percent of their income by the end of 2015. Currently MNsure has a calculator on its website that it admits is flawed.

Administrators say the estimates are accurate for lower income people, but for middle and higher income individuals the estimates are too high. MNsure says that will all be corrected by October when people start signing up.

The question is how many people will sign up? Will younger, healthier individuals just accept the penalty and not get coverage?

At North Point Health and Wellness, a north Minneapolis clinic that treats 23,000 low income patients a year, officials estimate that only 5 percent of their uninsured patients will register.

Why so low? Officials site language barriers, confusion about premiums and transient living and work arrangements as part of the problem.

Critics of Obamacare are already predicting a disaster, with fewer people signing up and bureaucracy pushing up the costs of both premiums and services.

Supporters say there will be growing pains, but with more people insured the costs of both health care and insurance will drop. The debate has been going on for years. We’re about to find out which side is right.


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