The penalties grow year by year and will be more expensive than the cheapest policy. Had they been higher from the start you would have been complaining that they forced people to get insurance too quickly.
The odd non-collectible-fee situation is, again, thanks to our Republican Obstructionists. They forced the passage to go through the Budget Reconciliation process, which has restrictions on taxes and fees. But, yes, you can avoid paying that tax so long as you never have a refund due to you for the rest of your lifetime, which for someone who ends up doing well for themselves practically means not changing jobs in the middle of the year or being employed by a company that spins off in the middle of the year (because you will end up with Social Security overpaid and due back to you as a refund).
But, yeah, you can avoid it. Or you can, you know, have insurance that keeps you from having to worry about going bankrupt because something unexpected happens.