On Inauguration Day, the next president of the United States should suspend the penalty for being uninsured under the Affordable Care Act. President Obama promised his law would provide an array of affordable health plans. In 2017, consumers will get neither choice nor affordability. In nearly one-third of the nation, only one insurer will offer coverage — that’s no choice at all. And premiums are skyrocketing everywhere. Obamacare is broken. Slapping Obamacare refuseniks with hefty penalties (averaging almost a thousand dollars) for not signing up is as unjust as enforcing a parking ticket when the meter was broken.

Consumers will be clobbered starting Nov. 1, the beginning of open enrollment. They’ll want to know what Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton intend to do about it, especially in in swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, where premiums are rising as much as 30 to 40 percent. In many parts of Florida, another must-win state, consumers will be forced to sign up for the only insurer in town or get hit with the penalty.

Giant insurers Aetna, UnitedHealth and Humana are exiting most Obamacare exchanges after losing billions trying to sell the unpopular plans. Wherever only one insurer remains, all patients on Obamacare will be funneled into that single remaining insurer’s network of doctors. That will make it nearly impossible to get a doctor’s appointment.

Worse, many of these remaining insurers are primarily in the Medicaid business. Obamacare will mean paying soaring premiums for Medicaid-level access to care. What a deal.

In Illinois, most Obamacare premiums are going up 51 percent before subsidies. In Tennessee, it’s 62 percent.

Individuals earning more than $48,000 and couples earning more than $64,000 have to pay full freight. It’s highway robbery.

From the start, Obamacare has made financial sense only for two groups: the very sick or those eligible for a free ride. That’s why more than 11 million people a year are opting to pay penalties instead of buying in. Amazing. More people are paying NOT to have Obamacare than are signing up for it.

Now, with premiums soaring and choices disappearing, even more people will say “no,” predicts industry expert Robert Laszewski.

These people shouldn’t get penalized. The same law that imposes the penalty promised them choice and affordability — and is reneging on both.

Does a president have the power to suspend the penalty? Yes. I am not suggesting the next president go rogue, like Obama himself did, changing the law 43 times without asking Congress. Only Congress can make or change law. But the Section 5000A hardship exemptions give the next president a legal opening. Stratospheric premiums and deductibles and lack of choice are hardships for sure.

Laszewski warns that dropping the penalty “would only make the system implode faster.” True, because the young and healthy will be under no pressure to pay for a raw deal. But why should these individuals be sacrificed to prop up “the system”?

The collapse of the Affordable Care Act plans is good riddance. Twenty million people have gained coverage under the ACA, but the lion’s share is enrolled in Medicaid, not in private plans. Those plans cover at most 8 million people who were previously uninsured — a small gain compared with the 11 million who pay the penalty and 5 or so million who had insurance they liked and were forced to give up for Obamacare.

One of Obamacare’s chief architects, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, calls for stiffer penalties on the uninsured. Princeton professor Uwe Reinhardt recommends the U.S. copy how European countries crack down on the uninsured, including garnishing wages. Yikes. Sounds like what Hillary Clinton recommended in 1993, when she proposed her failed health care plan. (And no doubt it’s what she’d try again.)

But Americans don’t want to be Europeanized, and they won’t march lockstep into an insurance scheme that takes away their choices. Let’s hope the next president is listening.

Betsy McCaughey is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and author of “Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution.” To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


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