« Ind. Decisions - Court of Appeals issues 5 opinion(s) today (and 11 NFP memorandum decision(s)) | Main | Ind. Courts - "Bill Would Set Guidelines For Releasing People On Bail" »

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Law - "IRS has stopped requiring individual filers to indicate whether they maintained health coverage or paid the mandate penalty as required under the law"

That according to a headline to an article dated Feb. 14th in Reason ( "free minds and free markets"), by Peter Suderman. The headline in full: "Major Blow to Obamacare Mandate: IRS Won't Reject Tax Returns That Don't Answer Health Insurance Question: The tax agency has stopped requiring individual filers to indicate whether they maintained health coverage or paid the mandate penalty as required under the law." The story begins:

How much difference does a single line on a tax form make? For Obamacare's individual mandate, the answer might be quite a lot.

Following President Donald Trump's executive order instructing agencies to provide relief from the health law, the Internal Revenue Service appears to be taking a more lax approach to the coverage requirement.

The health law's individual mandate requires everyone to either maintain qualifying health coverage or pay a tax penalty, known as a "shared responsibility payment." The IRS was set to require filers to indicate whether they had maintained coverage in 2016 or paid the penalty by filling out line 61 on their form 1040s. Alternatively, they could claim exemption from the mandate by filing a form 8965.

For most filers, filling out line 61 would be mandatory. The IRS would not accept 1040s unless the coverage box was checked, or the shared responsibility payment noted, or the exemption form included. Otherwise they would be labeled "silent returns" and rejected.

Instead, however, filling out that line will be optional.

Earlier this month, the IRS quietly altered its rules to allow the submission of 1040s with nothing on line 61. The IRS says it still maintains the option to follow up with those who elect not to indicate their coverage status, although it's not clear what circumstances might trigger a follow up.

But what would have been a mandatory disclosure will instead be voluntary. Silent returns will no longer be automatically rejected. The change is a direct result of the executive order President Donald Trump issued in January directing the government to provide relief from Obamacare to individuals and insurers, within the boundaries of the law.

However, this reporting change does not appear to eliminate the penalty for going without coverage. More from the long story:
Although the new policy leaves Obamacare's individual mandate on the books, it may make it easier for individuals to go without coverage while avoiding the penalty. Essentially, if not explicitly, it is a weakening of the mandate enforcement mechanism.

"It's hard to enforce something without information," says Ryan Ellis, a Senior Fellow at the Conservative Reform Network.

The move has already raised questions about its legality. Federal law gives the administration broad authority to provide exemptions from the mandate. But "it does not allow the administration not to enforce the mandate, which it appears they may be doing here," says Michael Cannon, health policy director at the libertarian Cato Institute. "Unless the Trump administration maintains the mandate is unconstitutional, the Constitution requires them to enforce it."

"The mandate can only be weakened by Congress," says Ellis. "This is a change to how the IRS is choosing to enforce it. They will count on voluntary disclosure of non-coverage rather than asking themselves."

The IRS notes that taxpayers are still required to pay the mandate penalty, if applicable. "Legislative provisions of the ACA law are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law and pay what they may owe‎," the agency statement said.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 15, 2017 09:12 AM
Posted to General Law Related