Idaho exchange foe to refuse insurance, pay fine

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A vocal Idaho foe of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul said Friday he’ll be one of an estimated 6 million Americans who will pay fines, rather than buy insurance required starting in 2014.

Idaho Freedom Foundation director Wayne Hoffman, a former reporter who founded the free-market think tank in 2009, is also urging his employees not to buy insurance via the Idaho insurance exchange, the Internet marketplace for health care coverage slated to begin enrolling people Tuesday for federally-subsidized plans.

“I hope they’re not, I’m encouraging them not to,” Hoffman said, adding the enticement of federal subsidies isn’t convincing. “I don’t think anyone on my staff would view a short-term payout by the federal government being worth the long-term costs.”

During the 2013 Legislature, Hoffman’s group sought unsuccessfully to persuade lawmakers to reject adopting a state-based insurance exchange. The group argued, among other things, that it would expand the size of government and further bloat the $16 trillion national debt.

Hoffman doesn’t provide insurance for his employees, though he recently began offering tax-advantaged Health Reimbursement Accounts, which help defray out-of-pocket medical expenses and individual health insurance premiums.

Jody Olson, a spokeswoman for the Idaho exchange, said the exchange is available for people including Hoffman and his employees to learn more about the law and their coverage options, but she pointed out nobody is required to use it to buy a plan. It’s slated to offer 146 plans for individual and small business health and dental coverage.

“We encourage Idahoans to explore all of their options before making this personal choice for themselves and their families,” Olson said.

Hoffman, a divorced father of two, earned $99,645 in 2012, according to Internal Revenue Service filings for tax-exempt organizations like his. His salary is more than $78,000, or 400 percent of federal poverty guidelines for a family of three, the threshold for federal tax subsidies for coverage purchased via exchanges.

But his six employees, down from eight a year ago, could qualify. He reports paying wages and salaries of $153,565 in 2012.

Two Idaho Freedom Foundation employees — Austin Hill, a reporter for the group’s Idahoreporter.com web site, and policy analyst Erik Makrush — didn’t return emails and phone calls seeking comment.

Rick Coffman, an Idaho Freedom Foundation contractor who edits stories for Idahoreporter.com, said Friday he gets medical coverage via Medicare — he’s 66 — as well as a supplemental plan.

Hoffman said he wouldn’t stop his employees if they did sign up for an exchange policy.

“That’s their right,” he said. “That’s not something I would do, they have to make those choices.”

Beginning in 2014, virtually all Americans must have insurance or pay an annual penalty. Individual’s fines start at a minimum $95 in 2014, rising annually to a $695 minimum by 2016. For uninsured kids in 2014, the fine is $47.50 each.

Hoffman pays cash for medical attention and rather than buy coverage, he said he expects to pay the fine.

“I’m not using any of that government nonsense,” he said.

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