Opening Day for Obamacare

The Obamacare team takes the field today, as the vaunted health insurance exchanges open for business. Though parts of the law have been in effect for about three years, what happened until this point was just spring training. Now we’re playing for keeps.

In many ways, Obamacare is trailing even before the ceremonial first pitch has been thrown. The administration was forced to postpone for another year its mandate that larger employers provide health insurance to workers. All sorts of glitches and limitations have been uncovered in many of the online exchanges, which are state-run in 14 states and partially or entirely under federal control in the remaining 36.

Critics of Obamacare will have no trouble finding things to boo once the game gets underway. I would save the catcalls, however.

I am no fan of Obamacare. Longtime readers know that I think the Affordable Care Act is deeply flawed and is liable to gravely damage or destroy the private health insurance market. These consequences, however, will not play out in the three months between now and the time when the newly sold plans take effect, on New Year’s Day. The new law may destroy the economics behind health insurance, but the process will require at least a few years to play out.

Many of the technical and administrative glitches we hear about now are just distractions. News reports last week indicated that some crucial software could not accurately calculate the amount of federal subsidy to which applicants are entitled based on their income. Without knowing the subsidy, purchasers cannot make an informed choice about which plan they want to buy. In the small business market, at least some of the online exchanges are not prepared to offer plans for sale at all; business owners must either wait for software updates or shop for insurance plans directly with insurers or via brokers.

These problems will probably be fixed fairly quickly. I would not get excited about the headlines, pro or con, that appear in the first weeks and months of the new health care regime.

My patience may come from being a longtime follower of the New York Mets. The Mets have a long history of futility, punctuated by a few glimpses of brilliance. This weekend they completed their 29th season with a losing record, against only 23 in which they have won more than they have lost.

Yet the Mets, oddly enough, have the best Opening Day record in baseball. Their 11-2 victory over the San Diego Padres on April 1 gave them a 34-18 record in season openers. This is just a hair under two-thirds of their games, and no major league baseball team can match this achievement.

There is no particular reason why the Mets are so good on Opening Day yet so bad, relatively speaking, later on. It is a statistical fluke. It means nothing. In the course of a long season (baseball’s 162-game schedule is easily the longest in major league team sports), the strengths of a good team and the shortcomings of a bad one become obvious.

So it will be with Obamacare. If the law really is a champion, its strengths will show themselves in due course. But if the Affordable Care Act really belongs back in the bush leagues, it will be painful to watch it struggle and flail.

I know, because I follow the Mets.

About Larry M. Elkin 553 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

Visit: Palisades Hudson

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