Following an Obama administration order, the IRS had been set to require taxpayers to indicate on line 61 on their form 1040s whether they had maintained health coverage in 2016 or paid the penalty. The IRS would have rejected returns if taxpayers failed to report their coverage status. But the IRS announced this week it would not reject returns that failed to check the appropriate ObamaCare boxes—an early indication of the administration’s efforts to provide relief from ACA mandates.
“This year, the IRS put in place system changes [initiated by the Obama administration] that would reject tax returns during processing in instances where the taxpayer didn’t provide…information [attesting that the taxpayer had health insurance].
“The recent executive order [issued on day one of the Trump administration] directed federal agencies to exercise authority and discretion available to them to reduce potential burden. Consistent with that, the IRS has decided to make changes that would continue to allow electronic and paper returns to be accepted for processing in instances where a taxpayer doesn’t indicate their coverage status.”
. . .
Enrollment in exchange coverage increased from 6.3 million at the end of 2014 to about 8.8 million, according to figures released by the administration at the end of last week.
But Obamacare’s coverage gains have also been more modest than expected, particularly when it comes to the exchanges. And part of the problem seems to be that people who sign up for coverage at the beginning of the year don’t always follow through to keep their coverage effective at the end of the year. It’s a problem that seems to be larger than the administration knew.
Enrollment through the ObamaCare exchanges has been more sluggish than initially expected, with just about 12 million sign-ups likely this year. That’s better than the 10 million or so officials projected back in October, but far less than the 21 million the Congressional Budget Office estimated as the law was taking shape.
Part of the problem seems to be that people are finding ways to game the system by signing up outside of the limited annual enrollment period and then dropping insurance shortly after. The law has a number of exemptions that allow people to buy coverage at any time throughout the year, such as changing or losing a job, having a child, moving, and getting married.
The people who come in via those special enrollment exemptions, it turns out, are far more expensive to cover. In an earnings call last November, an executive with UnitedHealth, the nation’s largest insurer, said that people buying in outside of the standard enrollment period cost about 20% more.