IRS Could Help Identify Uninsured

Affordable Care Act: IRS Could Help Identify Uninsured

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is intended to make affordable health insurance available to all. But we have seen that simply making it available does not result in 100% enrollment…not even close. It seems odd that you would have to push and prod people to take advantage of something that is free, but that’s the reality of Obamacare. Millions of low to moderate income families in the United States would qualify for free health care through Medicaid or highly subsidized policies through the insurance exchange if they would just apply.

There are many reasons why some qualifying families do not take advantage of these health care benefits. Some find the process confusing and don’t know where to go for help. Some people just procrastinate and don’t give it much thought until there is a health emergency. Others simply fail to get the message in the first place. Failure to get the message is perhaps the biggest tragedy of all in this, the Information Age.

The IRS, for example, obtains information from tax returns that could help identify people who would be eligible for government-subsidized health care, but who don’t take the steps to make it happen. The key indicator is the earned income tax credit. NPR reports that about half the taxpayers who receive this credit would be eligible for “significant financial assistance.” There are some states that do a much better job than the IRS of informing these low-income families of the potential health benefits available to them. The IRS certainly could do more in this area since they are currently doing nothing (besides providing a link to the government health insurance website). Of course, sending them a notice from the IRS might not have the same effect as putting them in touch with a “navigator” who would contact them directly with assistance.

800,000 Obamacare Enrollees Received Incorrect Tax Forms

Here’s a suggestion for the IRS’ next Tax Tips article: “What you should know about the incompetence of the IRS.” Or maybe this one: “10 reasons why you should not renounce your citizenship and move to Brazil.”  Their latest screw up came on Friday — or at least it was announced on Friday — that 800,000 Obamacare enrollees were sent the wrong tax forms and will need to wait until sometime in March to file their taxes.  Yet another reason to not be so eager about filing early.  And what about those conscientious tax return filers who already pulled the trigger?  Well, the Obama administration hasn’t quite figured out what to do with them yet.

Just keep checking in with the IRS on their website.  That’s where the IRS likes to funnel all inquiries these days.  They don’t have enough employees in their call centers to answer the phones usually; I would definitely not recommend you try calling.  I’m sure there will be some sort of extension for those who already filed using the wrong forms.  The Obama administration is great about accommodating people with extensions.  It will be all over the internet, just be sure you are looking to reputable news sources for you info.

There are always ways to describe Obamacare (or IRS) blunders so that it highlights the administration’s incompetence:

The White House tells us in a classic Friday news dump that nearly one million Americans could see their tax refunds delayed because of this president’s inability to implement his own law.

~ Diane Black, Rep Tenn

Not a full-blown “spin” though, in my opinion, because they very well could see their tax refunds delayed.  Years from now we will be able to look back, with experience and time giving us a better perspective, and determine if this is one of several innocent mistakes or if the government really did fail in the administration of Obamacare.  I know a lot of people believe we can make that call now, and would say that it has been a complete flop, not only the administration of the new law, but the whole idea of it in the first place.

IRS Not Prepared for New ACA Fraud Opportunities

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) is concerned that the IRS is not prepared to combat the onslaught of tax fraud that is anticipated once the IRS begins paying premium tax credits associated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  TIGTA recognizes that the IRS has systems in place to combat fraud in general; it has always been one of their top priorities.  But specific ACA fraud is another story.  The IRS is not prepared for this new responsibility which is bound to reveal unforeseen nuances.  The IRS has tested its systems that compute subsidies under ACA and the testing revealed flaws that could result in the IRS being unable to identify fraud prior to the issuance of credits.  In plain English, what this means is there is a significant risk that the IRS will inadvertently pay out credits to people who don’t really qualify.  According to the IRS, they have already made system corrections prior to the issuance of today’s report and they will be prepared.

Vengeful Audit Paranoia

People who get audited often feel like they have been unfairly targeted by the IRS.  Many of our clients have felt this way.  When the tax audit notice comes, they immediately review their past dealings with the IRS, trying to figure out why they have been audited and what they did to upset the IRS.  Some of the more paranoid audit victims will go back and mentally review all their dealings with any branch of the government, assuming that they were selected in an act of revenge.  I suppose it is human nature that causes them to wonder and question why they, of all people, were selected for audit.

Bill Elliot is a high-profile example of this “vengeful audit paranoia.”  He was audited after appearing on FOX News earlier this month where he criticized ObamaCare and told the nation about his health insurance policy being cancelled.  He couldn’t afford the new premiums offered in the federal health insurance marketplace and needs insurance probably more than the average person given that he is battling cancer.

We can’t know for sure whether Mr. Elliot was targeted by the IRS.  We know some of their audit selection criteria, and there are probably others that we don’t know.  People are also audited at least in part based on chance.  I don’t know of any confirmed “vengeful audits,” but maybe that’s the next IRS scandal

More on the Individual Mandate

With the individual mandate element of ObamaCare going into effect in 2014, some people who are currently without health insurance may be wondering if they should begin looking into joining the ranks of the insured. We now know what the penalty will be for failure to secure insurance, so there will certainly be those who do a little cost/benefit analysis. As the deadline creeps up on us, perhaps some are also wondering why. Why is there a penalty at all?

I found a succinct and informative article on the PBS website that answers many of the common questions that pop up in relation to the individual mandate:

If you aren’t already aware, Americans will be required to obtain health insurance beginning in 2014 or else pay a tax penalty of up to $95 per adult and half that for each child, or 1 percent of the household income, whichever is greater. And if you still don’t have coverage by 2016, you’ll pay as much as $695 per adult and $347 per child pursuant to the individual mandate.

What I really like about the PBS article is the plain-language explanation of the “why.”  For the health care overhaul to work, there has to be a broad base of participants. If everybody participates, including the young and the healthy, then the rates will (ideally) remain low. If coverage were not mandatory, then there would be an inordinate number of sick, high-cost participants which would drive the price of insurance through the roof.

However, opponents of the individual mandate believe that the penalty isn’t severe enough to ensure anything near 100% participation. Some people will certainly weigh their options and risk a penalty that will be lower than a health insurance premium, especially if the IRS is not going to do too much to enforce the individual mandate.

IRS Launches New ACA Website

The IRS’ new Affordable Care Act website is up and running.  Most of the new content is organized into three main parts: (1) Individuals & Families, (2) Employers, and (3) Other Organizations.

The Individuals & Families page is further broken down into two subtopics designed to educate the public on what they need to consider immediately (in 2013) and what they should look forward to in 2014.  Individuals should explore and begin planning for open enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace, which opens October 1, 2013.

The Employers page has a separate set of instructions for small employers (fewer than 50 full-time employees) and large employers (50 or more full-time employees).  It helps to educate employers on their specific coverage and reporting requirements and also explains what employer credits might be available.

Some organizations will be subject to special rules under the Affordable Care Act.  These “other organizations” include insurers, miscellaneous business types, non-profits, and government agencies.

The ACA website features a nifty news bar so we can always stay informed of new developments related to the Affordable Care Act.  It also very neatly lists all the various tax provisions, both in layman’s terms and in the form of news releases, notices, regulations, revenue procedures, revenue rulings, and Treasury decisions for the tax lawyer and studious type.  Lastly, the new ACA website includes links to related federal government websites like the Department of Health & Human Services, the Small Business Administration, and the Department of Labor.

Is IRS Ready for Obamacare Amid Turmoil?

The IRS was selected as one of the main agencies to implement President Obama’s new health care law.  Many of the provisions will go into effect next year.  But it is difficult to see how the IRS will be able to get all its ducks in a row amid the tax exempt applications scandal, congressional scrutiny of overspending, and various leadership changes.  All this turmoil seems to have come at a time when the IRS will be needed most.

There were more than 40 tax code changes associated with the Affordable Care Act, many of which are still being hammered out.  Here are some of the tasks that the IRS faces in the coming months:

  • collect tax penalties from individuals who fail to obtain insurance and employers who fail to provide it
  • define key terms in the law such as “minimum value,” and “minimum essential coverage”
  • issue guidance on new forms

Will the IRS be ready, or will they try to request an extension?

Tax Incentives for Small Businesses under Obamacare

The health care coverage mandates under the Affordable Care Act are scheduled for January 1, 2014.  So what will it mean for business owners?

The small business health care tax credit is the carrot for small business owners to contribute to their employee’s health care. Beginning in 2014, Uncle Sam’s carrot for small businesses that pay at least half of their employee premiums for qualified health insurance coverage, and employ 25 or fewer workers with an average income of $50,000 or less, is a tax subsidy on the health insurance premiums they pay.

The maximum qualified subsidy is 50% and is available to small businesses with an average payroll for full-time equivalent employees of $25,000 and ten or less full time employees. The subsidy is presently scheduled to be reduced by 3.35% per additional employee and 2% per additional $1,000 of average income.

Therefore, the savvy small business owner, who is doing good by contributing to their employee’s health insurance will be able reduce their expenses by paying careful attention to their workforce and wages paid. It may be necessary to consult with an experienced CPA or tax attorney for a more individualized understanding of these tax incentives.

Sandy & Obamacare

Just a couple random observations today:

1. Hurricane Sandy – Have you ever seen the looting that goes on when there are major storms and disasters?  Well, there is a distinct probability that we will see internet “looters” who don’t actually go and affirmatively steal things, but who lure victims to send them payments.  Beware of websites that purport to be charities raising money for victims of Hurricane Sandy — they could be a scam.  You can check on the tax-exempt status of the organization to determine how much you’re going to trust them.  Do this BEFORE you donate!  No need to run it by your tax attorney; just follow this link to the Exempt Organizations Select Check on the IRS website.

2. Obamacare Form – Americans for Tax Reform has prepared a “projected” tax form to assist taxpayers with their obligations under Obamacare.  This is so bizarre to me.  What a strange gimmick.  First of all, who has time to put together a complete form along with instructions based on what they think the IRS is going to require?  Second, who is really going to use this form when the individual mandate does not take effect until 2014?  Tax relief may be a top priority these days, but people just don’t plan that far in the future.  Props for style though;  it looks just like an actual IRS form.

What does the Individual Mandate Mean to the IRS?

The Supreme Court’s recent decision to characterize the ObamaCare individual mandate as a tax will have significant repurcussions on efforts to simplify the tax code and the tax collection “business.”  In other words, it’s just going to complicate things.  That’s what happens when domestic policy initiatives are enacted through this nation’s tax laws.  And just as the tax code tends to be the “catch all” for implementing new policy, the IRS has consequently become that agency we constantly turn to for help with enforcing it.  It must be like achieving a new position at work with new responsibilities, but no pay raise!

Under Obama’s health care reform initiative, if you do not purchase health insurance, you will be charged a “tax” that will be enforced by none other than the Internal Revenue Service.  Besides adding complexity to the tax code, this new tax will be adding work to an already overburdened federal agency.  The IRS has been asked to take on new responsibilities before, so there should be no question as to whether or not it will be up for the task.  However, the costs will be staggering.  The IRS will have to implement new procedures, hire new staff, train old staff, and otherwise do what is necessary to enforce the new health care tax.

With more and more people piling up tax debts that they can’t afford to pay, the private tax relief firms may be the only ones that stand to benefit from all this.