Maine residents facing tax penalties for going without health insurance now have an extra opportunity to avoid getting fined next tax season.
The federal government announced Friday a special sign-up period for individuals and families who lacked coverage in 2014 and didn’t realize the Affordable Care Act requires all Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty. As you might recall, U.S. Sen. Angus King, along with nine Democratic colleagues in the Senate, sent a letter last week to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell asking the agency to hold an extra sign-up session.
Some Americans are just now coming face to face with Obamacare’s requirement that we all get health insurance. For the first time, tax filers must note their insurance status on this year’s returns. With few exceptions, those without coverage must pay a penalty.
It’s too late to avoid the penalty in 2014. But now, consumers who want to enroll through Healthcare.gov — the federal insurance marketplace created under the ACA — have more time to get covered and avoid the fine in 2015.
Open enrollment was originally scheduled to end on Feb. 15. Now, eligible consumers can sign up from March 15 to April 30. The idea is that people who learn of the fee when they file their taxes leading up to the April 15 deadline can enroll right away to get covered and avoid a fine next year.
“It’s just common sense: one penalty – while tough enough to take – is a lot better than two,” King said in a statement. “Helping millions avoid two fines for failing to get coverage in 2014 and for missing the 2015 deadline are the types of commonsense changes that will make a big difference for people and families across the country.”
Meanwhile, about 800,000 people using Healthcare.gov received erroneous tax statements and were advised to wait to file their tax returns until the government could correct the problem.
HHS said in a news release that the extra enrollment time is designed for “those who were unaware or didn’t understand the implications of the fee for not enrolling in coverage.” Here are the specifics:
Those eligible for the special enrollment period live in states like Maine that use Healthcare.gov (rather than states running their own marketplaces) AND:
- Aren’t already enrolled in coverage through Healthcare.gov for 2015 (You’d think that goes without saying, but presumably HHS is clarifying that you can’t use the special sign up period to switch plans like you could during regular open enrollment),
- Attest that when they filed their 2014 tax return, they paid the fee for lacking coverage in 2014, and
- Attest that they first became aware of, or understood the implications of, the “Shared Responsibility Payment” (read: penalty) after the end of open enrollment (Feb. 15) in connection with preparing their 2014 taxes.
Most taxpayers will simply check a box when they file their taxes to inform Uncle Sam that they had health coverage in 2014. The majority of Americans get coverage through work or government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Healthcare.gov is designed for people who buy their own insurance, like the self-employed.
But about a quarter of Americans didn’t have insurance for all or part of 2014. HHS estimates that 10 to 20 percent of them will qualify for an exemption from the requirement to have coverage. (Find the list of exemptions here or use Healthcare.gov’s new exemption tool.) An estimated 2 to 4 percent will get hit with the fee.
For 2014, the penalty amounts to either 1 percent of annual household income or $95 per adult/$47.50 per child, whichever amount is higher. It gets steeper in 2015, rising to either 2 percent of your annual household income or $325 per adult/$162.50 per child, whichever is higher.
To find out if you’re eligible for the special enrollment period, visit healthcare.gov/get-coverage. Find more information on the tax penalty at HealthCare.gov/Taxes or IRS.gov. Consumers who need assistance filing their taxes can visit IRS.gov/VITA, IRS.gov/freefile or cashmaine.org.