The Corner

More on the President’s Uninsured Tax

There has been, understandably, a lot of attention paid to the tax that uninsured Americans will have to pay if they decide not to buy insurance. I find this data useful to understand how it may work:

  • The penalty/tax will be phased in from 2014 to 2016.

  • The minimum penalty/tax in 2016 will be $695 per person and up to 3-times that per family.

  • After 2016, these amounts will increase at the rate of inflation.

  • The minimum penalty/tax per person will start at $95 in 2014 (and then increase through 2016)

  • No family will ever pay more than 3X the per-person penalty, regardless of how many people are in the family.

  • The $695 per-person penalty is only for those who make between $9,500 and ~$37,000 per year. If you make less than ~$9.500, you’re exempt. If you make more than ~$37,000, your penalty is calculated by the following formula…

  • The penalty is 2.5% of any household income above the level at which you are required to file a tax return. That level is currently $9,500 per person and $19,000 per couple. The penalty on any income above that is 2.5%. So the penalty can get expensive quickly if you make a lot of money.

  • However, the penalty can never be more than the cost of a “Bronze” heath insurance plan purchased through one of the state “exchanges” that will be created as part of Obamacare. The CBO estimates that these policies will cost $4,500-$5,000 per person and $12,000-$12,500 per family in 2016, with the costs rising thereafter.

So, basically, you’re looking at penalties of approximately the following at the following income levels:

  • Less than $9,500 income = $0

  • $9,500 – $37,000 income = $695

  • $50,000 income = $1,000

  • $75,000 income = $1,600

  • $100,000 income = $2,250

  • $125,000 income = $2,900

  • $150,000 income = $3,500

  • $175,000 income = $4,100

  • $200,000 income = $4,700

  • Over $200,000 = The cost of a “bronze” health-insurance plan.

The IRS is supposed to collect the tax. But according to the Tax Policy Center, it is not clear how much the IRS will be able to collect:

Finally, there is the issue of whether the IRS can collect the tax if someone refuses to either buy insurance or pay the fine.  The ACA says the IRS should enforce the law by imposing a tax penalty—but then effectively blocks the agency from using most of the tools it normally uses to go after tax scofflaws.

The ACA bars the IRS from bringing a criminal enforcement case against someone who refuses to pay the non-insurance penalty. And it makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for it to enforce a tax lien. Law professors Jordan Barry and Bryan Camp have a nice piece in Tax Notes explaining it all.

That leaves only one tool—the IRS can subtract the penalty from any refund it owes a taxpayer. But that applies only if the IRS happens to owe somebody a refund. These days, two-thirds of taxpayers get one, but it is usually their choice.

Only low-income households who receive refundable credits, such as the Earned Income Credit, always get refunds. But the ACA specifically exempts most of them from the tax because their income is so low.

Finally, this tax isn’t the only one in the law. Here is a list of five other taxes that will hit taxpayers soon.


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