Thursday, January 22, 2015

Affordable Care Excise Tax, Part III

Paying Your Fair Share

:: By: Larry Walker II ::

In Tax Simplification, Part II, I expounded on a 2010 Annual Report to Congress, in which National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson focused on the need for tax reform as the No. 1 priority in tax administration. In particular, she focused on the problem of delivering social benefits through the tax system, which complicates the mission of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), resulting in a dual mission of welfare administration as well as revenue collection. But instead of taking heed, the federal government doubled down, adding a new health care excise tax and health insurance premium tax credit to the IRS’s burden.

Telephone hold times with the IRS can sometimes run as long as four to seven hours these days, and if you don’t believe me try calling yourself. A taxpayer facing a federal tax lien, levy or wage garnishment doesn’t have a choice. He or she must call immediately in order to prevent an adverse action, but unless they have a day to spare and a very powerful battery, may wind up on the phone for several days just trying to get someone on the line. The federal government has taken an agency best suited for revenue collection, and turned it into a socialist style welfare office, long lines and all.

In Part 2, I affirmed that the shared responsibility payment isn’t a fee, because nothing is received in return. Nor is it a penalty, because failure to purchase health insurance doesn’t constitute a crime. The individual shared responsibility provision imposes an excise tax on a tiny minority of U.S. residents who don’t have government-mandated health insurance or qualify for one of several exemptions. Although Internal Revenue Code – Section 5000A refers to it as a penalty, in general, if it involves filling out a federal income tax form (i.e. Form 8965), and is assessed on and payable with your personal income tax return, it’s a tax.

Opting Out

Many U.S. residents opted out of government mandated health insurance last year. Most simply couldn’t handle the government dictated concoction of monthly premiums and annual deductibles. For these, the Affordable Care Act’s punitive excise tax only makes matters worse. To those affected by this odious tax, it represents a discriminatory confiscation of wealth they are least likely to possess.

For example, the lowest cost Bronze Plan in the state of Georgia currently costs a married couple in their late 40’s to early 50’s (without children and with annual income of around $80,000) a monthly premium of around $622. Conjoined with an annual deductible of $12,600, their insurance policy won’t cover a dime of medical expenses until they have exhausted slightly over a quarter of their annual income ($20,064 / $80,000).

If the couple reasons that they may be able to afford the first $7,464 in medical bills, but would be screwed if they had to pay an additional $12,600, they would be better off not wasting their money on insurance premiums. Once having come to this conclusion, in steps the government to impose the execrated tax. The couple is then forced to hand over 1% of their income (above the filing threshold) in 2014, 2% in 2015, 2.5% in 2016, and more thereafter.

In this example, the government-inflicted excise tax is meant to encourage, or if you will, coerce the couple into purchasing a service they deemed impractical from the get go. But will it? Since the problem boils down to its exorbitant overall cost, how does a government imposed tax of $597, $1,194 or $1,493 help this couple? Newsflash: It doesn’t. Taking money away from one middle class taxpayer and handing it to another serves no meaningful purpose.

What is the purpose?

The premise behind the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was originally as follows: Too many Americans are being denied access to medical care. Health care is a fundamental right for every American. Therefore, every American should have universal access to health care. Anything less is immoral. Yet, in spite of an unprecedented level of government intervention, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), roughly 30 million nonelderly U.S. residents will remain uninsured in 2016, and every year thereafter.

One critical detail, virtually forgotten in its more than 20,000 pages of regulations, is that prior to implementation of the ACA, 42 million U.S. residents were uninsured, according to an annual report from the U.S. Census Bureau. And now, after upending the entire American health care system, and throwing another monkey wrench into U.S. tax administration, come to find out that 71% of them will remain uninsured for the duration.

But at least 12 to 13 million got covered, right? Well perhaps, but not without taxpayer assistance, or what’s known in the real world as additional government debt. According to the Heritage Foundation, roughly 6 million of the newly insured were added to taxpayer-funded Medicaid programs. And according to H&R Block, the other 6.8 million purchased health insurance, but only after employing taxpayer-funded subsidies (i.e. premium tax credits).

In short, 30 million of the 42 million who were uninsured prior to the ACA will remain uninsured in 2016 and every year thereafter. And, of the 12 to 13 million newly insured, every last one received a taxpayer handout. What’s up with that? Couldn’t we have achieved the same result without maiming the tax code?

Ironically, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, around 30 million U.S. residents, age 18 or older, never made it past the 11th grade, but that’s another story. Although not likely the same 30 million who will never have health insurance (because they get theirs for free), you can bet Progressive’s will constantly characterize them as hard-working Americans worthy of evermore governmental assistance (i.e. a higher minimum wage, free child care, free junior college, free health care, etc… etc…)

Right, so they didn’t make it past the 11th grade, but now it’s our job to hand them a free ride? Are you kidding me? These are not hard-working Americans; they are society’s losers. Close to half probably aren’t even legal. Oops! The notion of robbing the middle class, in order to dole out freebies to a bunch of flunkies is absurd. If you want something in life, work for it like the rest of us. But I digress. The affordable excise tax, being levied against the true middle class, is damnable.

Are you paying your fair share?

Now get this. Of the 30 million (or so) who will remain eternally uninsured, the majority are expected to be exempt from the new excise tax. That’s right! Despite the federal government’s ultimatum, the CBO estimates that 23 million will qualify for one or more of the following exemptions:

  1. Not lawfully present. Any individual who is neither a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, nor an alien lawfully present in the U.S. If you are in the U.S. illegally, then according to the law you are exempt.

  2. No filing requirement. An individual whose household income is below the minimum threshold for filing a tax return. The requirement to file a federal tax return depends on filing status, age, and types and amounts of income. If you are not required to file a return, then no other action is required.

  3. Income below the federal poverty level. You were determined ineligible for Medicaid because your state didn't expand eligibility for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

  4. Plans are unaffordable. You have no affordable coverage options because the minimum amount you must pay in annual premiums is more than 8% of your household income.

  5. Indian tribes. Any member of a federally recognized Indian tribe. You may claim this exemption directly on your tax return through self-attestation.

  6. Incarceration. Any individual in jail, prison, or a similar penal institution or correctional facility. You may claim this exemption through self-attestation when you fill out your federal tax return.

For more on exemptions, see Part 2. So in the year 2016, only around 7 million of the 30 million uninsured will have to deal with this new excise tax, in one fashion or another. The CBO estimates that among the 7 million, 3 million will either request hardship exemptions, or simply refuse to pay (i.e. take advantage of the IRS’s inability to administer and collect the tax).

All in all, the CBO believes a mere 4 million hapless Americans will be forced to fork over an estimated $4 billion in affordable care excise taxes in the year 2016. The figure climbs to an estimated $5 billion a year from 2017 to 2024. Note: The CBO neglected to offer estimates for tax years 2014 and 2015, which will likely involve higher numbers subject to the tax due to novelty of the law.

In brief, 4 million pay, while 26 million get a pass. Well, so much for the vaunted Fair Share theory! Perhaps all should be granted immunity, or at least an opportunity to purchase catastrophic health insurance policies, as I pleaded for in Part 1.

Squashing the Real Middle Class

Among the doomed 4 million (i.e. those subject to the affordable care excise tax), the CBO estimates that roughly 74% will be from what many consider to be the middle class (i.e. income exceeds 200% of federal poverty guidelines), with the remaining 26% in the low income category (i.e. income below 199% of federal poverty guidelines).Great!

So by the year 2016, out of 30 million perpetually uninsured Americans, comprising roughly 10% of the population, only 4 million, or just over 1% of the population, will be forced to pay what the Supreme Court said, “…may reasonably be characterized as a tax.” The bulk of the disheartened will represent the middle class, with a minority from the lower middle class. Wow!

Prior to the ACA, 42 million U.S. residents were uninsured. Following its implementation, 30 million, or 71%, will remain uninsured indefinitely. Of the 12 to 13 million newly insured, every single one is on the government dole, either through free Medicaid or subsidized health insurance premiums. In 2016, 4 million uninsured American citizens will be forced to hand over 2.5% of their income to the federal government in exchange for nothing, while another 26 million, in essentially the same boat, will remain uninsured but at least suffer no further humiliation. So the U.S. is finally taxing the 1%, eh?

Although the ACA focuses its excise tax on a tiny fraction of permanently uninsured Americans, at the same time it provides subsidies for people making up to four times the federal poverty line (i.e. $46,680 for a single person, $62,920 for a family of two, and $95,400 for a family of four). Can you say overpriced? As a general rule, when a product or service is subsidized it’s being sold at a premium (i.e. the insurance is overpriced). But not to worry, the ACA’s premium tax credits turn out to be a load of bull as well.

According to the Washington Examiner as many as 3.4 million of the 6.8 million who received taxpayer subsidized health insurance may owe money back to the federal government. H&R Block estimates that as many as half of the 6.8 million people who received insurance premium subsidies under the ACA benefited from subsidies that were too large. Oh, for crying out loud!

At this point, if you’re a left-winger you’re probably thinking, “Yippee, we did it!” If you’re conservative you’re likely saying, “I told you so.” And if you find yourself in the crosshairs of the affordable excise tax, you’re probably muttering words you dare not convey in public.

To be continued…

Related:

Affordable Care Excise Tax, Part I

Affordable Care Excise Tax, Part II

Affordable Care Excise Tax, Part IV

#Healthcare

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Affordable Care Excise Tax, Part II

Effing the Middle Class

:: By: Larry Walker II ::

In Part 1, we voiced concern that in constitutional law sense, an excise tax is usually an event tax as opposed to a “state of being” tax, the recent exception to this principle being the "minimum essential coverage" tax under Internal Revenue Code section 5000A as enacted by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111–148), whereby an indirect tax is imposed on the condition of not having purchased health insurance coverage.

This is not the first time in history the United States has forced its middle class to pay a tax supposedly for our common good; Social Security and Medicare taxes come to mind. However, this is the first time the federal government has ordered its middle class to either engage in an act of commerce, or else hand over a percentage of its hard earned income.

Nearly 18 million state and local government employees as well as a few conscientious religious objectors are exempt from Social Security taxes, while the rest of us are bound to a sinking ship. Is it fair that millions of Americans get a better deal, while the masses are forced to contribute to the welfare of others?

Under the Affordable Care Act it's worse. Those who voluntarily purchase private company health insurance plans, predetermined by the federal government as meeting their needs, and deemed affordable to them based on contrived criteria, are allowed to escape the new tax, while those in need (i.e. stuck in the middle and still uninsured) get screwed.

If the principle behind the affordable care tax were applied consistently across the board, then those participating in qualified retirement plans should be exempt from Social Security tax, and owners of long-term care insurance contracts should be excluded from Medicare tax. This would be fair and equitable, but as it stands the new tax represents a major departure from Americanism.

Under this latest departure from common sense, the poor receive free health care through state-run Medicaid programs, the rich can handily afford the best of insurance plans, and the middle class are either stuck with high premiums compounded by soaring deductibles, or slapped with an excise tax for not purchasing a government mandated plan.

Members of the middle class, and those once aspiring, who refuse on principle, or are for myriad reasons unable to purchase a government mandated health insurance plan, and not meeting one of several exemptions, are subject to this new “state of being” tax. In other words, the state of being stuck between a rock and a hard place makes the middle class a prime target for funding government subsidies to the poor.

If you and your family did not have minimum essential coverage in 2014, you will need to meet a specific exemption to avoid paying the new excise tax. If you would like to obtain coverage for 2015, the deadline for doing so is February 15, 2015. To obtain coverage, your options include:

  • Health insurance provided by your employer;

  • Health insurance purchased through the Federal website (healthcare.gov), or your State’s Marketplace;

  • Coverage provided under a government sponsored program (i.e. Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Administration);

  • Health insurance purchased directly from an insurance company; or

  • Other health insurance coverage that is recognized by the Department of Health & Human Services.

Who is exempt?

The Affordable Care Act mandates individuals without health insurance to pay an excise tax on top of their regular federal tax obligation, however there are exemptions. If you are exempt from the requirement to maintain minimum essential coverage, the excise tax won’t apply when you file your 2014 federal tax return. An exemption may apply if you meet one of the following criteria:

  1. You have no affordable coverage options because the minimum amount you must pay in annual premiums is more than 8% of your household income; or

  2. You have a gap in coverage for less than three consecutive months; or

  3. You qualify for one of the hardship exemptions listed below, or belong to an exempt group (explained later).

Numbers 1 and 2 (above) may be claimed directly on your income tax return, but a hardship exemption (number 3) must be approved by a government bureaucrat. To claim a hardship exemption, you must complete and mail an application to what’s being called the Health Insurance Marketplace (i.e. the federal government). Upon approval, you will receive an "exemption certificate number" (ECN), which must be included on your tax return to receive the exemption.

Please be aware, that if you do not qualify for exemption numbers 1 and 2 (above), and think you may qualify for one of the following hardship exemptions, the time to submit an application is now. If you wait until tax season, the filing of your tax return may be delayed (awaiting receipt of an ECN), or you may have to file without an exemption and amend your return later. Choosing the latter will affect the amount of your refund or balance owed.

If any of the following hardships apply to you, you must submit an application for exemption as discussed in Part 1:

  1. You were homeless.

  2. You were evicted in the past 6 months or were facing eviction or foreclosure.

  3. You received a shut-off notice from a utility company.

  4. You recently experienced domestic violence.

  5. You recently experienced the death of a close family member.

  6. You experienced a fire, flood, or other natural or human-caused disaster that caused substantial damage to your property.

  7. You filed for bankruptcy in the last 6 months.

  8. You had medical expenses you couldn't pay in the last 24 months that resulted in substantial debt.

  9. You experienced unexpected increases in necessary expenses due to caring for an ill, disabled, or aging family member.

  10. You expect to claim a child as a tax dependent who's been denied coverage in Medicaid and CHIP, and another person is required by court order to give medical support to the child. In this case, you don't have the pay the penalty for the child.

  11. As a result of an eligibility appeals decision, you're eligible for enrollment in a qualified health plan (QHP) through the Marketplace, lower costs on your monthly premiums, or cost-sharing reductions for a time period when you weren't enrolled in a QHP through the Marketplace.

  12. You were determined ineligible for Medicaid because your state didn't expand eligibility for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

  13. Your individual insurance plan was cancelled and you believe other Marketplace plans are unaffordable.

  14. You experienced another hardship in obtaining health insurance.

If any of the 14 hardships (above) apply to you, and you wish to be excluded from the affordable excise tax, then you must submit a hardship application, along with proper documentation supporting your claim. If approved, you will be granted an ECN to enter on your tax return. Good luck with that. If denied, you may need to pay the tax, or if you are expecting a refund the IRS will conveniently subtract it out.

Exempt Groups: The following individuals are exempt from coverage:

  1. Religious conscience. Any member of a religious sect that is recognized as conscientiously opposed to accepting insurance benefits. The Social Security Administration administers a similar process allowing exemption from Social Security and Medicare taxes. You must submit an application to claim this exemption.

  2. Health care sharing ministry. Any member of a recognized health care sharing ministry. Health care sharing ministries (HCSM) provide health care cost sharing arrangements among persons of similar and sincerely held beliefs. HCSMs are operated by not-for-profit religious organizations acting as a clearinghouse for those who have medical expenses and those who desire to share the burden of those medical expenses. You may claim this exemption directly on your tax return through self-attestation.

  3. Indian tribes. Any member of a federally recognized Indian tribe. You may claim this exemption directly on your tax return through self-attestation.

  4. No filing requirement. An individual whose household income is below the minimum threshold for filing a tax return. The requirement to file a federal tax return depends on filing status, age, and types and amounts of income. If you are not required to file a return, then no other action is required.

  5. Incarceration. Any individual in jail, prison, or a similar penal institution or correctional facility. You may claim this exemption through self-attestation when you fill out your federal tax return.

  6. Not lawfully present. Any individual who is neither a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, nor an alien lawfully present in the U.S. If you are in the U.S. illegally, then according to the law you are exempt. Well, imagine that.

You’ve Been Grubered

The affordable excise tax maxes out at 1% of household income (above the filing threshold) in 2014, increases to 2% in 2015 (i.e. a 100% increase), then to 2.5% in 2016 (i.e. an additional 25% hike) and is automatically adjusted for inflation thereafter. What’s the rationale behind the dramatic rate of increase? Is inflation expected to rise by 100% in 2015 and by another 25% in 2016? Are middle class wages expected to grow at anywhere near this clip?

You’ve got to give it up for the Grubers (i.e. Democrats), for pulling the wool over our eyes and sneaking this baloney into law. As if their deception wasn’t bad enough on its own, what’s even more disturbing is their blatant persistence in calling this “state of being” excise tax a fee or penalty, even after the Supreme Court ruled it to be a tax. One has to wonder just who they are trying to fool at this point? Certainly members of the middle class, who are beginning to feel the pinch, are not fooled.

If the affordable care tax is indeed a fee, doesn’t the act of paying a fee normally correspond with the receipt of some good or service? Sure, but in the matter at hand, what does the middle class get in return for this so-called fee? Do we receive health insurance? Nope.

All the middle class winds up with is less money to cover its uninsured, out-of-pocket, health care expenses, and less to put towards compliance with the nefarious Act. So how exactly does this help the uninsured? Well, it doesn’t help this group.

If the affordable care tax is a penalty, doesn’t the assessment of a penalty normally succeed an act of wrongdoing? Yes, but in this matter, what wrong has been committed? Is the act of paying one’s own health care expenses out-of-pocket (without the benefit of health insurance) a crime? Since the statute waives criminal penalties for non-compliance with the requirement to maintain minimum essential coverage, it’s not a crime.

The Supreme Court agrees, its Chief Justice having stated that, “The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax…” Had the court deemed it a penalty, the entire law could have been ruled unconstitutional. Face it, the affordable excise tax is just that, a tax. It’s not a fee, nor is it a penalty, so it’s high time you Grubers cut the B.S. and start calling it what it is. Hopefully, the new Congress will bring an expeditious end to this looming catastrophic nightmare.

To be continued…

Related:

Affordable Care Excise Tax, Part I

Affordable Care Excise Tax, Part III

Affordable Care Excise Tax, Part IV

#Healthcare