By Orrin Hatch, Lamar Alexander and John Barrasso
Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about whether the Obama administration used the IRS to deliver health insurance subsidies to Americans in violation of the law. Millions of Americans may lose these subsidies if the court finds that the administration acted illegally. If that occurs, Republicans have a plan to protect Americans harmed by the administration’s actions.
When the court rules in King v. Burwell, we anticipate that it will hold the administration to the laws Congress passed, rather than the laws the administration wishes Congress had passed, and prohibit subsidies in states that opted not to set up their own exchanges, as the language in the law clearly states. Such a ruling could cause 6 million Americans to lose a subsidy they counted on, and for many the resulting insurance premiums would be unaffordable.
Republicans have a plan to create a bridge away from Obamacare.
First and most important: We would provide financial assistance to help Americans keep the coverage they picked for a transitional period. It would be unfair to allow families to lose their coverage, particularly in the middle of the year.
In King v. Burwell, four Virginia residents are a challenging an IRS Obamacare rule in the Supreme Court. While the case involves only a handful of plaintiffs, it is really about the millions of Americans who are victims of Obamacare’s mandates and penalties.
Like the King plaintiffs, millions are harmed by Obamacare’s individual mandate, which forces them to either buy insurance that they don’t want or to pay a tax penalty. But the IRS rule also has devastating consequences for countless other Americans and their families.
OUR VIEW: If Obamacare plaintiffs win, millions lose
The Obama administration revealed Friday that it sent about 800,000 HealthCare.gov customers a tax form containing the wrong information, and asked them to hold off on filing their 2014 taxes.
The self-inflicted bungle follows weeks of administration officials touting a successful enrollment season — one that saw far fewer technical glitches than the rocky launch in late 2013.
About 11.4 million people signed up this season. But the errors in tax information mean that nearly 1 million people may have to wait longer to get their tax refunds this year.
Dec. 26, 2014, was strike three for Pamela Weldin.
The day after Christmas, Weldin, of Minatare, Neb., had logged on to Facebook to find a message from a friend of hers. Included in the note was a link to an article from the Omaha World-Herald announcing that CoOportunity Health, a nonprofit health insurance company offering plans in Nebraska and Iowa, had been taken over by state regulators.
The insurer, one of 23 Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans, or co-ops, started with the backing of the federal government and received $145 million in loans from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. But, CoOportunity’s expenses and medical claims would far exceed its revenue for 2014.
Facing high costs but smaller budgets, states like Hawaii and Rhode Island are struggling to find financially and politically sustainable ways to keep their health exchanges running.
Jeff Kissel’s first task when he took over Hawaii’s health exchange was making sure it worked after a botched first year, but a close second was finding a way to pay for it. The former gas utility CEO is now lobbying his legislature — what he calls “taking a forceful stand for why this business decision works”– to keep the exchange’s lights on.
The Obamacare window technically just closed this weekend, but a new round of political headaches could just be beginning for the administration.
That’s because it’s tax season, and many Americans could soon be getting an unwelcome surprise that they owe the government a penalty for skipping health insurance coverage.
Up to 6 million Americans are expected to pay a penalty for not having coverage in 2014, according to recent Obama administration projections. The 2014 penalty for this tax season is $95, or 1 percent of family income — purposefully on the weaker side to let people adjust to this new coverage scheme. Most of the uninsured won’t actually face the penalty because they’ll qualify for an exemption, either related to their inability to afford coverage or some other hardship.
Behind the scenes, HealthCare.gov is still a mess.
The “back end” of the Obamacare website still isn’t properly wired to the health insurance companies. It’s slow going for health plans to make sure the 11.4 million people who have signed up end up in the right plan. Subsidy payments aren’t automated, so the insurers get payments based on estimates. And adding information like a marriage or the birth of a child is a convoluted, multi-step process.
Janice Riddle got a nasty surprise when she filled out her tax return this year.
The Los Angeles resident had applied for Obamacare in late 2013, when she was unemployed. She qualified for a hefty subsidy of $470 a month, leaving her with a monthly premium of $1 for the cheapest plan available.
Riddle landed a job in early 2014 at a life insurance agency, but since her new employer didn’t offer health benefits, she kept her Obamacare plan. However, she didn’t update her income with the California exchange, which she acknowledges was her mistake.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence has won approval from the Obama administration for a Medicaid waiver that begins the transformation of the program toward a consumer-directed model.
Gov. Pence is building on the popular and successful Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) created by former Governor Mitch Daniels in 2007.
Both of them pushed the envelope with Health and Human Services officials who were determined to perpetuate a hide-bound program that is ill-serving tens of millions of recipients while gobbling up state revenues. Gov. Pence and his staff worked directly with White House officials to overcome this inertia and set down some new markers for future reform.
Gov. Pence announced today that the administration has approved Healthy Indiana 2.0 that will require contributions from all able-bodied Hoosiers participating in the program. It also creates an Employer Benefit Link that provides a Medicaid contribution for recipients who are eligible and participating in employer-sponsored health insurance plans. In addition, recipients who do not make their required contributions toward their health benefits can be locked out of the program for six months. All recipients will be required to make a contribution toward their Medicaid benefits, even those who are at the lowest income eligibility levels.
While conservatives are sure to criticize this plan as an expansion of Medicaid, I see it as taking advantage of an opportunity to lay the groundwork for the kind of Medicaid reform that we must move toward in the future. It would not be possible to rip out this program root and branch and replace it with a consumer directed model. By winning approval of these changes through a Medicaid waiver, other governors have a much stronger platform to move toward other changes that will work for their states.
HIP creates a POWER Account that is jointly funded on a sliding scale by the recipient and the state. Recipients at 138% of poverty must contribute $54.86 a month for a family of four to participate, for example. Families at 100% of poverty have to contribute $39.75 a month. If they do not make their contribution, they face the lock out.
The $2,500 POWER Account gives people an incentive to monitor their spending for their routine medical expenses. There also are penalties for unnecessary visits to emergency rooms.
Absent Obamacare, many conservatives would praise this effort to make Medicaid look more like a Health Savings Account and catastrophic high-deductible coverage. This is an important start toward much-needed changes to this public program. By using the ObamaCare waiver option that the administration wanted, Gov. Pence has gained important and potentially transformative changes to Medicaid. This is a win.
Millions of Americans who received subsidized health insurance under ObamaCare will find a new wave of frustration this tax season.
After losing their health insurance because it was not ObamaCare compliant…after slogging through the healthcare.gov website to get enrolled in a new policy…after losing their doctors…after learning that they must pay thousands of dollars in deductibles before they can get medical care…now they must face the IRS.
By the end of the month, they should receive a form 1095-A that shows they had health insurance through federal or state exchanges. They will use the form to fill out an astonishingly complex Form 8962 to reconcile the subsidies they received with the income they earned in 2014.
If they received too much, they will have to pay back some or all of the subsidy. That could mean they receive a smaller – or no – tax refund. And for the privilege of this new interaction with the IRS, many will have to pay hundreds of dollars to hire a tax preparer to help them wade through these new ObamaCare tax forms.
Yes, ObamaCare is getting worse.
H&R Block HRB 0% estimates that up to half of Americans who received subsidies for health insurance under the ACA last year will owe the IRS money.
An estimated 87% of those who signed up for health insurance on the new exchanges got subsidies to reduce their health insurance premiums and sometimes their cost-sharing expenses. An assistant professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University, John Graves, calculates the average subsidy was $208 too high.
But these taxpayers face yet another cost. Many of them are accustomed to filing the simple 1040EZ tax form. No more. Most will have to retain tax preparers to help them fill out the new Form 8962. That could cost them several hundred dollars.
The form is used for taxpayers to prove that they and everyone in their family (including children) had health insurance every month of last year, what their incomes were, how much of a subsidy they received, whether they are married, single, legally separated, etc. The examples in the instructions are a window into the complexity of family arrangements in America and, still, people surely will come up with hundreds more permutations.
The instructions are mindboggling in their complexity. They take up 15 pages of fine print and will challenge the most seasoned tax preparer. A one-sentence example: “Column B. Enter on lines 12 through 23, column B, the amount of the monthly premium for the applicable SLCSP [second lowest cost silver plan] reported on Form 1095-A, lines 21 through 32, column B.”
It continues, “If during 2014, your coverage family changes and you did not notify the Marketplace, or no APTC [Advance payments of the premium tax credit] was paid, the premium for the applicable SLCSP reported on your form(s) 1095-A may not be accurate…” It then provides a handy link to another IRS document to explain what you should do if that happens. The instructions go on and on like that for 15 pages.
If taxpayers have to pay back some or all of the subsidy, the instructions explain a new layer of complexity: People who make less than 200% of poverty, or about $23,000 for an individual, will owe only $300, even if they received thousands of dollars more in subsidies. If you make up to the 400% of poverty, or $46,000, you could owe $1,250. If you earned $46,500, which is just over the limit to qualify for subsidies, you will have to pay it all back – likely several thousand dollars.
And if you didn’t have health insurance last year, you will have to pay a fine of $95 or 1% of your modified adjusted gross income. A couple making $65,000 would have to pay a fine of about $450, for example. The “tax penalties” increase this year and next.
Can it get any worse? Yes.
Nina Olson, an IRS watchdog, estimates that 47% of those calling the IRS for help in filling out their tax returns won’t get their calls answered during tax filing season. Those who do get through will wait an average of 34 minutes to talk to someone, she estimates.
Tax preparers calling the “priority service line” will have to wait an estimated 52 minutes to talk to an IRS expert. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen admitted, “We do as well as we can. And ‘as well as we can’ is still going to be miserable.”
The vast majority of Americans who did not receive ObamaCare subsidies for health insurance will simply have to check a box on their regular tax form attesting that they had health insurance. Employers and health insurance companies will be sending them a form 1095-B or 1095-C, which they will attach to their taxes as proof of coverage.
The individual mandate is one of the most detested provisions in the health law, and the first tax season when people must comply will create a new level of outrage about the law, its intrusiveness, and the hidden costs in fines and hidden taxes that millions of Americans will face.