Absent health care fix, tax relief no relief for Wellington family

President Donald Trump has been talking about rescuing the middle class.

“We will cut taxes for middle-class families. This is a major, major tax cut — the biggest since Ronald Reagan,” he said in a speech two months ago. “The pipe fitters and plumbers, and nurses, and police officers — all the people like you who pour their hearts into every penny earned in both the offices and oil fields of America — you’re the ones who carry this nation on your back, and it’s time for you to get the relief that you deserve.”

We’re starting to get the numbers now. And while the lion’s share of the projected benefits go to the wealthiest Americans, the plan’s middle-class tax relief is estimated to be about $1,200 for a family of four earning about $59,000 a year, and a few thousand more in savings for people who earn near the upper ranges of the middle class.

Is that “major, major”? Well, it’s something. But for some in the middle class, whatever tax savings may trickle their way has already been swallowed up by increases in their health insurance premiums.

By actively sabotaging the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), after failing to replace it, Trump and his party have created uncertainty in the health care insurance market through cuts of billions of dollars in cost-sharing reduction payments, and mixed messages over whether Obamacare noncompliance penalties will be enforced. The ripples of this have spread through the industry beyond those covered by the exchanges.

Don’t believe me? Well, consider the plight of Erin Leonard Farrell. She’s a 47-year-old college-educated wife and mother who works as a construction project manager. Her husband, Richard, is a mechanic. They live in Wellington with an adult daughter and her infant son.

The Farrells make a household income of about $145,000 a year, which at least on paper puts them better off than nine of 10 households in America.

But they have a health insurance problem.

Both Erin and her husband work for small companies that don’t offer insurance to their employees. So they don’t get the benefit of participating in large group health care plans that negotiate better terms. And they make too much money to qualify for any of the subsidies that make insurance purchased through the Obamacare exchange affordable. Those subsidies disappear for families of four that earn more than $97,000 a year.

And now what was already a rough situation just got a lot worse for them.

Erin Farrell sat there and cried after opening the letter she got from her health insurance provider, AvMed.

The annual increases in the family’s health insurance policy for the past couple of years have been steady but modest. But not this time.

The company informed her that her family’s monthly insurance premiums were going from $1,673 to $2,680 — an extra $1,007 a month. That’s a 60 percent jump.

She scribbled on the bill, doing the numbers. Her family was already paying $20,076 a year for health insurance. Now it would be $32,169 a year.

“That’s 22 percent of our gross income,” she said. “And the coverage is worse.”

The individual deductibles would go from $3,500 to $4,500. Specialist co-pays and max out-of-pocket costs would increase slightly, too.

“And that’s without dental or vision,” she said. “We’re healthy people, too. My husband and I don’t even go to the doctor. But my fear is that as soon as I drop the insurance, that’s when something will happen. So I guess we have to find some way to pay it.”

She called AvMed to see if there was some mistake. There wasn’t.

“Instability, uncertainty in the marketplace,” she wrote at the top of her bill, relaying the explanation she got on the phone.

Erin called her father, Richard Leonard, in Boynton Beach. He has had a long career working for a consulting company that deals with employee benefits. He’s shopping around for a cheaper plan for his daughter and his family, but he says they’re in a tough spot.

“I am very familiar with the Affordable Care Act, as we spent a significant amount of time explaining and implementing this legislation over the past six years for our client base, big and small employers alike,” he said. “Had the coverage been allowed to develop through bipartisan efforts, it could have been an answer to providing health care coverage to this country on a basis that should have been acceptable to all.

“But the Republicans used it as their rallying cry for eight years to elect a Republican president and Congress,” he said. “Now they are trying to kill it without anything to replace it. The impact of these Republican efforts to destroy the ACA, led by an egotistical president whose only goal is to destroy it, regardless of the impact to those covered under it, has now hit me full in the face.”

His daughter, meanwhile, is not wondering what she will do with any crumbs of tax relief may come her family’s way.

“I heard somebody say that I could buy a car with it,” she said.

Then she laughed.

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