Sticker shock

Recently, I received an invoice in the mail for $179—money owed for routine medical tests, even though I have employer-subsidized health insurance. Annoying, sure, but the check I'll end up writing to make it square represents just a razor-thin sliver of the tests' actual cost.

I thought about that bill earlier this week after a distant family member took to Facebook to link to an article from the conservative news organization with the headline “IRS: Cheapest Obamacare Plan Will Be $20,000 Per Family.”

Talk about sticker shock—well, it would be if that number was accurate.

According to, a nonpartisan project run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, the $20,000 figure is actually an estimate of what a family of five would pay in tax penalties if it didn't purchase any coverage at all.

Here are some real numbers: A May 22 report from California officials shows that the average currently uninsured 40-year-old will only pay $276 monthly for the midrange cost “Silver plan,” which covers 70 percent of medical fees.

That's $3,312 annually. The average 21-year-old would pay $2,592 yearly. Those who are eligible for federal subsidies—an estimated 2.6 million Californians—will pay much less. Many will pay nothing at all.

And yet, to be fair, according to Covered California, the group operating the exchange, those already insured by employers will see an estimated 13 percent rate. That number stings, but much less so than previous predictions that put the hike at 30 percent.

The new health-care-exchange program is not without concern—for starters, currently only 13 insurance companies have signed on as providers—but those who want to criticize it should first get the numbers right.