- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2014

The IRS is still trying to decide whether it will end up suing anyone who refuses to obtain health insurance or pay the tax penalty required under Obamacare’s “individual mandate,” and how much they would have to owe before the tax agency begins to care.

With the mandate deadline less than two months away, it’s the latest uncertainty as the administration tries to figure out how far it should go in enforcing the most controversial parts of the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t know if a decision has been made about that,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told Congress on Wednesday, vowing to try to get an answer for Rep. Sam Johnson, a Texas Republican who was prodding him on the issue.

Starting this year, the Affordable Care Act penalizes Americans who can afford health insurance but choose not to obtain it. Known as the individual mandate, it sparked a wave of conservative protests before the Supreme Court upheld it in 2012 as a legitimate use of Congress‘ power to tax.

But it is not clear how far the IRS plans to go in enforcing the mandate during next year’s tax season, when filers must begin to report whether they held health insurance in the prior year.

For one thing, the law prohibits the agency from filing liens on the delinquent person, which limits its options.

“I have no idea under what circumstances the IRS would bring lawsuits,” said Timothy Jost, a health policy expert at Washington and Lee University School of Law. “Basically, they’re going to try to grab people’s refunds.”

An IRS spokesman declined to comment on the issue Thursday, beyond what Mr. Koskinen said to Congress on Wednesday.

Mr. Johnson said in written statement Thursday that “not only has Obamacare canceled health plans and increased premiums for millions of Americans, but now it can take people to court for not having health insurance. That’s wrong, this is America.”

The individual mandate was included in the law to make sure enough young, healthy people purchased insurance on Obamacare’s new health exchanges and kept premiums in check when people with pre-existing medical conditions, who no longer can be denied coverage, enrolled.

Several exemptions from the mandate were built into the health care law, covering everyone from illegal immigrants and prisoners to those who have religious conscience objections, such as the Amish; and health care sharing ministries members, who take care of each other’s health care costs through direct payments.

People also are exempt if they do not earn enough to file tax returns, or if the cost of the lowest-price plan available to them costs more than 8 percent of their household income.

For non-exempt filers, the penalty for lacking health coverage starts at $95 for low-income taxpayers in 2014, rising to $659 in 2016. Higher-income taxpayers who reject coverage will pay more — 1 percent of their income in 2014, rising to 2.5 percent in 2016.

An IRS spokesman said that the Form 1040 for tax year 2014, which will be drafted and finalized this fall, will include instructions on how to calculate any applicable payment under the mandate.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, predicted the administration will decide to strictly enforce the law in order to try to keep Obamacare on track.

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