Strictly Business: Health law a joke to merchant

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor


photoGordon Oliver, Columbian's business editor

Vancouver small-business owner Tim Barry was plenty mad when his insurance was canceled in October as part of the nation's transition into the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.

The reason: his new policy through the Washington health exchange had higher costs and fewer benefits than the one rendered obsolete by the new federal law. By Barry's calculation, he could end up paying $3,000 more per year in higher out-of-pocket costs, even though his monthly premium dropped from $820 to $660 per month.

But Barry, whose online retail stores under the corporate umbrella of Intelligent Technologies Inc. offer offbeat products from back scratchers to gifts for left-handers, said he isn't one to whine about life's frustrations. He's the kind of person who looks for a quick opportunity to make money -- in this case, enough money to cover his higher medical costs.

That thought process resulted in Barry's self-publication of a sometimes satirical, sometimes funny book that tees off from his health care experience. It's called the "Totally Unauthorized Obamacare Joke Book," which he's added to his online offerings.

He released the book in the fall, but it's been a quiet launch because Barry has no money for promotions and sales of his other products — which he describes as "wants" rather than "needs" — has been slow even in the recovering economy. He knows of no other book that aims to use humor to skewer a law that has sputtered for years to gain traction and respect.

The book feels as chaotic, disjointed and cluttered as Barry's website. It opens with this quote from writer Kurt Vonnegut Jr. that expresses Barry's own world view: "Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion … I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward."

From there, Barry winds through a seemingly endless string of digs at anyone and anything associated with Obamacare that is sure to annoy supporters of the health care law and the president who led the charge for the law. Some of the material is original: Barry wrote the haikus and mock news articles. The book offers the usual fare of top 10 lists and a recycling of old jokes to attack the predictable target.


Q. What's the difference between the Obamacare website and a car battery?

A. The car battery has a positive side.

Not surprisingly, Barry didn't vote for Obama. He says he's not a Republican, but is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. He says he's more interested in being funny than in being mean-spirited.

He's selling the book on his own website,, and on If he sells 500, he'll have his worse-case medical costs covered for the year.

It's just too bad that Barry doesn't live in Oregon. He could offer a bonus "Cover Oregon" edition.