There's more in Obamacare than you might think. I recently embarked upon an arduous task to find out what those things might be by reading the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- all 906 pages of it. I'll admit that my eyes did tend to glaze over quite a bit, but I slogged through it. And while there was plenty of language describing provisions we have all heard about, like the individual mandate, I discovered several items in the law that were a bit strange and surprising. Here are 12 shocking provisions hidden in Obamacare.
1. Music to the Fool's ears
The Motley Fool has long promoted the importance of teaching youth about financial matters. Section 2953 of Obamacare is like music to the Fool's ears. The section specifically calls for educating adolescents about financial literacy to prepare them for adulthood. That's the good news. What's the bad news? The government teaching anyone about financial matters is like Lindsay Lohan teaching personal responsibility.
2. Size matters
Next time you get your explanation of benefits from UnitedHealth (NYSE:UNH), check out the font size. It better be at least size 12 font, or the company is violating the law. Yes -- Obamacare mandates that insurance companies use that font size or greater. This specification is part of a section intended to ensure that customers can read and understand the documents sent by insurance companies. Maybe cartoon drawings could help, too.
3. A nod to Charlton Heston
Late actor and National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston famously said that he would only give up his gun when it was pried from his cold, dead hands. Mr. Heston would probably have liked at least one part of Obamacare. Language in the act specifically prohibits companies operating health and wellness programs from collecting information about gun ownership or usage.Obamacare protecting gun rights. Now that's shocking.
4. Patrolling deep health care waters
Who would you expect to be included in Obamacare's Interagency Working Group on Health Care Quality? If you said the Food and Drug Administration or the National Institutes of Health, you'd be correct. However, you would also be right if you mentioned the Coast Guard. Yep, listed among the agencies responsible for determining how to improve health care quality is the guardian of our nation's waters. With stress contributing so much to health care problems, I'd think that one of the biggest causes of stress for Americans -- the IRS -- might be a better agency to include.
5. What's good for the goose
If you have ever complained about Congress passing laws that don't apply to themselves, you might be surprised to find out that our senators and representatives must enroll in an Obamacare plan like everyone else. Well, nearly everyone else. The White House wasn't mentioned in the section requiring Congress to use approved health plans. However, an administration spokesperson indicated that President Obama will voluntarily participate in a health insurance exchange established by his signature legislation.
6. It's fine if the dog eats their homework
Nearly three pages of Obamacare provide excruciating detail about reports that the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB, should submit to Congress. What if they don't do their homework? No problem. If IPAB doesn't do what it is required to do, Obamacare says that the Secretary of Health and Human Services must create the report instead. Government accountability at work, folks.
7. Add IPAB to your Christmas list
Speaking of IPAB, Obamacare specifically states that this board charged with determining how to control health care payment costs can take gifts. No limitations are given. In case you can't think of a good gift, the legislation mentions that services or property are fine to donate also. IPAB can by law sell anything you give them, though, so be forewarned.
8. Sense and nonsense
Language is included in section 9023 that "the sense of the Senate" is that nothing should be done related to the legislation that would increase taxes on the middle class. I suggest reading Dan Caplinger's excellent summary of new Obamacare taxes impacting all Americans before deciding if the "sense of the Senate" is better described as nonsense.
9. Funny money
In case you didn't think Congress was funny, they stuck a provision into Obamacare that specifies that humor can be used in a marketing campaign about preventive care. How much was allocated to be spent? Only $500 million. My guess is that someone's laughing all the way to the bank.
10. Protecting the 1%
Drugmakers got slapped with billions of dollars in new taxes and fees -- but not for the most expensive drugs of all. Orphan drugs are excluded from new fees. This means that companies like Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALXN) won't have to pay the extra fees on sales of $440,000-per-year Soliris. Obamacare protects the 1% -- of high-cost drugs, at least.
11. The greatest tax of all
While there are plenty of new taxes in Obamacare, it might be surprising what gets taxed the highest. If you have a really great health plan, you get hit with a 40% excise tax. Too much health care must be a bad thing.
Last, but not least, Obamacare prohibits false statements or representations about any Obamacare-approved plan. The provision itself isn't surprising, but the irony is. Section 1501 states unequivocally that Obamacare "will lower health insurance premiums." Aetna (NYSE:AET) CEO Mark Bertolini, though, said recently that premiums will rise as a result of the legislation, with some premiums doubling. Even Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted not long ago that some premiums would rise with Obamacare. Ironic indeed.