As many as 20 million Americans soon will be getting a letter from the Internal Revenue Service “suggesting” they sign up for ObamaCare insurance.
Getting a letter from the IRS can be a threatening and nerve-racking experience; it seldom is seen as a suggestion and more of a threat. But at President Obama’s direction, the IRS is “reaching out” to people who paid the tax penalty for not buying mandatory health insurance or who claimed an exemption in hopes of “attracting” more people to sign up for ObamaCare insurance. The government is particularly interested in compliance from healthy young people.
Congress is not happy. “We strongly object to any action by the Administration to improperly use sensitive taxpayer information to identify and harass individuals who have rejected the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) by choosing to pay a tax rather than be forced into a health care plan they don’t need and don’t want,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, and Ways & Means Chairman Kevin Brady said in a letter today to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
They warned the IRS about the use of “protected taxpayer information” and sent Koskinen a list of sharp questions demanding more details about how the IRS plans to “reach out directly to individuals” and how the Department of Health and Human Services will be involved in encouraging “their compliance with the individual mandate.”
They refer to an HHS fact sheet that says, “[F]or the first time this fall, we will conduct outreach to individuals and families who paid the fee for being uninsured, or claimed an exemption from that fee, for 2015.”
“The ACA has caused great disruption in the individual health insurance market,” the House leaders said in their letter. “We do not believe it to be an appropriate tax administration activity, or a good use of scarce taxpayer resources, to use protected return data to direct taxpayers on their personal coverage decisions.” IRS involvement is particularly worrisome given its targeting of individuals and groups unfavorable to the Obama administration’s policy agenda.
Anyone who has received any letter from the IRS knows what a knee-knocking experience it is. Tax policy expert Chris Condeluci sent a note to clients this summer about administration’s plans, saying, “As Ronald Reagan so famously said, ‘The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ It just strikes me that the recipients of the HHS letter will react negatively to hearing from the government. Just knowing that the HHS knows that the recipient paid the penalty tax in 2014 may be enough to freak them out.”
About 45% of people who paid a penalty or claimed an exemption for 2014 were under the age of 35, compared to just 30% of all taxpayers that year. Health insurers have made it very clear to the White House that they need more healthy young people to enroll in the exchanges to stabilize the pools, which are too old and sick. People who paid the penalty are a ripe target.
Condeluci says nearly 8 million people paid the individual mandate tax penalty in 2014. In addition, more than 12 million people claimed an “exemption” from the penalty tax. “That is a lot of people that HHS will be contacting – 20.3 million people.”
Is it legal for the IRS to do this? The leaders warn the IRS that “As you are aware, the confidentiality of tax returns and return information is protected by law.” The “sole permitted use of this confidential data” is to determine whether people are eligible for ACA subsidies.
Will getting a dreaded letter from the IRS work with millennials? Or will it further anger them about the reach of “big brother” into their lives and decisions?
One final thing: Chief Justice Roberts, are you listening? Perhaps you can now see why so many of us were worried about the individual mandate and the power that it would give government to exert its will over what should be our personal choices and decisions.
Read the article in Forbes