If you’re among the first-ever group to be hit with a tax penalty for going without health insurance, there’s a consolation prize: a second chance to enroll, possibly get federal assistance, and avoid an even bigger fee next year.
The window for special enrollment starts Sunday and runs through April 30. For those who didn’t realize how the Affordable Care Act would affect them until they filed taxes, it’s a chance to get coverage for the rest of this year.
Here’s what you need to know.
Who pays a penalty, and why?
People who were uninsured for all or part of 2014 may owe a penalty of $95 per adult ($47.50 per child) or 1 percent of household income, whichever is larger. That penalty is calculated during tax filing and becomes part of your income tax bill.
The act levied the penalty to prod everyone to get coverage. Uninsured people who can’t pay for their care end up costing taxpayers money and bumping up medical costs for everyone.
There’s an exemption for people who can’t get affordable coverage, including those whose income fell below the federal poverty level and can’t get Medicaid in North Carolina. Check HealthCare.gov for other exemptions.
Who gets a second chance at aid?
The six-week special enrollment period applies to people who owe a penalty for 2014, are still uninsured and say they didn’t know about the insurance mandate and penalty until they filed taxes.
Federal officials say surveys show that despite years of news coverage and political hullabaloo over the act, many people haven’t given much thought to what it means for them. This tax season is the first time people will be forced to pay.
Those who qualify for special enrollment will be offered the same menu of private policies and income-based subsidies as those who enrolled by the Feb. 15 deadline.
If you enroll now, do you still pay the penalty?
For 2014, yes. But you’ll avoid it for 2015, when it rises to $325 per adult or 2 percent of household income.
Still trying to figure it out?
Information is available at HealthCare.gov or by phone at 800-318-2596.
Free consultation is available from people trained to help people navigate the ACA system. To make an appointment, call 855-733-3711 in North Carolina and 888-998-4646 in South Carolina.
Don’t get scammed
The Internal Revenue Service issued a warning Friday that “unscrupulous tax preparers” across the country have been telling clients to pay the ACA penalty to the preparer. In many cases, those clients didn’t actually owe anything, the notice says.
“The IRS reminds individuals who owe the payment that it should be made only with their tax return or in response to a letter from the IRS. The payment should never be made directly to an individual or return preparer,” the tax agency warns.