IRS won’t withhold tax refunds if Americans ignore ACA insurance requirement

By Amy Goldstein February 15 – The Washington Post

The Trump administration is taking its first steps to put its imprint on the Affordable Care Act, reversing plans to withhold tax refunds this year from Americans who flout an insurance requirement in the law while proposing a series of rule changes to encourage insurers to remain in ACA marketplaces.The Internal Revenue Service has revoked an Obama-era instruction to taxpayers that was taking effect during the current filing season as a way to further compliance with the ACA’s requirement that most Americans carry health insurance or pay a tax penalty. Under the instruction, the IRS had announced that it would no longer process tax returns for people who fail to send a notice with their returns that they have insurance, are exempt from the requirement or are paying the fine.Instead, the agency said in a statement on Wednesday, tax returns will be processed as always, even for individuals who do not provide the required information. The IRS said the decision, made earlier this month but not previously publicized, was in line with an executive order that President Trump signed hours after his inauguration, giving agencies broad authority to lighten the burden of federal rules under the ACA.The IRS confirmed the change on the same morning that Health and Human Services officials proposed a set of rules to help protect insurers and shore up ACA marketplaces in the short term while Republicans work on demolishing the law. The proposal drew swift praise from the insurance industry and condemnation from consumer advocates and congressional Democrats.

Taken together, the moves by the IRS and HHS demonstrate the balancing act the fledgling administration is attempting with the 2010 law, which remains one of Trump’s top targets. The administration is eager to undermine as much of the ACA as it can through executive actions, but it also is eager to stave off any abrupt collapse of the insurance marketplaces covering about 10 million people — and to minimize any political fallout for the GOP.

While allowing tax refunds to keep flowing, the IRS change does not affect the actual penalty most people face for not having health coverage, which can be eliminated only through a new law. The penalty is $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of a household’s income, whichever is greater.

The proposed HHS rule would make it harder for consumers to buy health coverage outside of the law’s regular enrollment periods, give insurers power to deny new coverage to people late in paying their premiums, and create more rigorous checks of applicants’ eligibility.

At the same time, the changes would eliminate federal reviews of whether health plans in the ACA marketplaces have enough doctors and other providers of care, delegating the task to states. And by lowering how much insurers must pick up for a specific benefit package, the changes would allow them to sell plans with higher deductibles.

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