All the debate I've heard and read about regarding the national health care law during the past two weeks has missed the point. President Barack Obama and the more thoughtful among his cronies are just fine with that. They'd just as soon most Americans join the majority on the U.S. Supreme Court in focusing on a tax most people won't pay.
No one seems to want to talk about the tax, hidden so well even the Supreme Court seems to have missed it, that nearly all of us will pay.
Most of what the high court struggled over in deciding whether to uphold Obamacare was the so-called individual mandate. It amounts to an order by Uncle Sam that everyone buy health insurance. Compliance is enforced by levying a tax against those who don't buy government-approved policies.
Chief Justice John Roberts and four other justices agreed the government can't force anyone to buy health insurance. But it can collect a tax from those who refuse to do so. For more than two weeks since the court released its ruling, that has been the news.
Except, it isn't. Certainly, the tax is onerous. It starts out at $695 a year for each uninsured adult. The more well-off can pay 2.5 percent of family income, up to a maximum of $12,500.
But only about 4 million people a year are expected to pay the tax rather than buy health insurance, the Internal Revenue Service estimates. That's less than 2 percent of the country's population. Who cares?
It's the rest of us I'm worried about. The hidden tax we're going to pay will total far more than what the IRS will collect under the tax recognized by the Supreme Court.
Remember, you can't meet the government requirement with just any health insurance policy. You have to buy one that provides the coverages specified by the Department of Health and Human Services. And guess what? The DHHS is still working on the requirements.
We do know a few things that will be in the package. Insurance companies will have to provide coverage, allegedly at no additional charge, for children up to age 26 on their parents' policies. Coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, again allegedly at no additional cost, will have to be provided. And yes, birth control drugs, including those some people believe induce abortions, will have to be part of the package.
What's worrisome is all this talk about "no additional charge" for additional coverage. Does Obama really expect me to believe the insurance companies will tack on benefits without charging someone, somehow for them? Give me a break.
The bottom line is that insurance will be more expensive for everyone. The cost of those mandated benefits will be averaged out and added to the base charges for all who pay premiums.
That won't cost a dime for people on Medicaid. There are about 56 million of them now. If the program is expanded as the federal law mandates, 16 million will be added. That's a total of 72 million who won't pay more.
To that, add the 20 million or so people whose incomes are too high for Medicaid but who the government deems in need of help with insurance premiums. Each family will receive $4,000 a year. Call it a total of 70 million people affected.
Add in older Americans on Medicare. That's another 48 million who won't pay higher premiums - at least in theory. Realize, though, that $500 billion in support for Medicare is being slashed by the health care law. Also remember, the cost of those supplemental insurance policies many older people buy will go up.
Depending on how you slice it, between one-third and one-half of Americans won't pay more for health insurance as a result of Obamacare.
The rest of us will - as much as $2,200 more a year, according to one estimate. We can either pay that or pony up the fines - taxes, if you like - for failing to do so.
No one seems to want to talk about the higher cost of insurance because of Obamacare. Again, however, it's a gigantic new tax, possibly in the range of $200 billion a year. No wonder the White House is happy it's not being discussed.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org