The IRS has recently announced that it will reverse its position on enforcing the ACA declaration requirement. Although the agency accepted tax returns that failed to indicate healthcare coverage during the 2017 filing season, they have recently stated that this information will be required in order for a return to be processed in 2018. An IRS spokesperson clarified the reason for the change, noting that the process “reflects the requirements of the ACA and the IRS’s obligation to administer the healthcare law.” They also maintain that declaring health coverage at the time a return is filed makes filing easier and reduces the possibility of a refund delay.
The requirements of the Affordable Care Act state that every taxpayer must demonstrate that they have “essential minimum” healthcare coverage. Forms of coverage that fulfill this requirement include Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, VA benefits, health insurance provided by an employer, privately purchased health insurance and health insurance obtained though the Health Insurance Marketplace. If one of these forms of coverage is not in place, the taxpayer must either obtain a waiver based on demonstrating a financial hardship or be subject to the assessment of a penalty. The penalty, which is referred to as the shared individual responsibility payment, is the greater of 2.5% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income or $695 per adult and $347.50 child up to a maximum of $2085.
Although President Trump signed an executive order earlier this year giving executive departments and agencies the authority to roll back certain aspects of Obamacare, the IRS has actually stepped up enforcement. While 2017 tax returns were processed even when line 61 indicating health care coverage was left blank, this will not be the case in for the upcoming tax season. In fact the IRS recently issued an official statement indicating that the 2108 filing season will be the first time the IRS will not accept tax returns that omit healthcare information. They have said that electronically filled and paper returns with this omission will be thrown out, thus delaying the receipt of any refund associated with the return. In addition to stepping up enforcement for the current tax year, the agency has recently sent out letters to over 130,000 taxpayers who did indicate healthcare coverage on their 2014 and/or 2015 tax returns.
Only time will tell how all of this will play out. Republican Congressmen have launched several attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Healthcare Act but, to date, have been unsuccessful. This means that the IRS requirement that taxpayers indicate their healthcare coverage on their 2017 tax returns will stand as the 2018 tax season approaches. Although none of the more serious tax collection techniques such as tax liens or tax levies apply to meeting this requirement, the threat of a withheld tax refund may well be enough to force taxpayers into compliance on this issue.
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