Remember back when the Affordable Care Act was passed, and no one really read all the details of it, because there were so, so many, and it wasn’t going to go into effect until the far off future? While many of us are now enjoying the benefits of the insurance marketplace, and getting ready to sign up for a second year of health insurance under the law, those little details might come back to haunt others come tax season. According to a survey conducted last month by TurboTax, 48 percent of Americans aren’t aware that they’ll need to report their health insurance status on their tax returns for 2014.
Right now, nine out of 10 Americans have health insurance, but a crucial point of the ACA is the individual mandate, intended to lower overall healthcare costs once everyone in the country has some kind of approved insurance. Of course, for it to be a mandate, there have to be penalties for noncompliance. We’re being eased into that part, however, and for the first year, the tax cost of not being insured for at least nine months is either 1 percent of your household’s annual income or $95 per person, whichever is greater. It will go up to 2 percent/$325 in 2015, and more after that.
There are a number of exemptions to the penalty, which are listed on the Healthcare.gov website. They include having income too low to have to file an income tax return to being a victim of domestic violence, receiving a shut-off notice, or recently experiencing the death of a close family member. According to the TurboTax survey, 56 percent of the uninsured aren’t aware that such exemptions exist. TurboTax conducted the survey at least in part to highlight the tax preparation company’s own free service for anyone who’d like to look up whether they’ll be paying a penalty under the ACA this year or are eligible for an exemption.
The site also guides users through their options for buying health insurance in a way that might be a little less confusing than the government’s own educational efforts. The survey found that 45 percent of Americans aren’t even aware that the law provides premium tax credits for the majority of those who need to purchase insurance on the marketplace. During the open enrollment period for 2015 (which began in November and goes through February), there are advocates in many states working overtime to inform the uninsured about their options.
Though the early website problems have been smoothed out, when individuals do finally decide to buy insurance through the state or federal marketplace, that’s a whole other headache to deal with. If the options are overwhelming, look into consulting with a broker who can guide you through the process and help pick out an insurer for you. They’re paid by the insurance companies, so this help is entirely free for consumers. The bottom line is, ignorance of the ACA is eventually going to be a pricey, unnecessary mistake.