The Internal Revenue Service will function as the government’s chief enforcer for health care reform, should President Obama sign the bill into law as expected, monitoring both businesses and individuals to certify whether they have the insurance coverage the government requires.
The tax collection agency will be responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with the individual and employer insurance mandates which form the backbone of the Democrats’ hard-won reforms.
The bill states that the purpose of the mandates is to regulate “economic and financial decisions about how and when health care is paid for, and when health insurance is purchased.”
The mandates require that all Americans carry a minimum level of health insurance or pay a separate tax for every month they are without such coverage. All employers with 50 employers or more will also be required to provide their employees with that same minimum level of coverage.
While that minimum level of coverage will be defined at a later date by the Department of Health and Human Services, it will be the responsibility of the IRS to monitor individuals and employers and to punish those who do not comply.
Under the bill, which passed despite bipartisan opposition March 21, starting in 2014 the IRS would be responsible for monitoring which employers are complying with the mandate and which ones are not. The IRS would begin such monitoring of individuals’ health insurance status in 2014 as well.
The IRS would monitor individuals and businesses’ health insurance statuses through the mandatory reporting the bill requires. Under the law, every individual and most businesses are required to report to the IRS, on their tax returns, whether they have purchased or provided the required level of coverage and disclose to the IRS which months, if any, in which they failed to do so.
Using this information, the IRS would then determine whether an employer or individual falls under the mandate, which contains exceptions for religious conscience, hardship, incarcerated persons, and members of Indian tribes.
If either an individual or a business has failed to comply with this mandate for any month out of the year, they are required to pay a separate tax to the IRS. For individuals this is a maximum of $750 per person (up to $2,250 per household) and $750 per uncovered employee for businesses.
Because these penalties would each apply on a monthly basis, individuals and employers would have to pay 1/12th of the maximum penalties for each month they failed to comply with the mandates.
In order to carry out its new monitoring and enforcement duties, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the IRS will need $10 billion in additional funds, funds which were not made available under the health reform bill.
An analysis done by Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee estimated that this $10 billion could go to fund an additional 16,500 new IRS agents and other personnel to monitor and enforce the new mandates.
“[T]he IRS could add more than 16,500 additional agents, auditors, examiners, and administrative support personnel to enforce large portions of the nation’s health insurance system,” the report said.
The IRS will also be in charge of collecting the new taxes on high cost insurance plans and on so-called unearned income from couples making over $250,000 per year and single filers making over $200,000 per year.
Both of these provisions could be modified should the Senate approve a budget reconciliation measure the House also passed March 21. Whichever final form they take, they are both direct taxes and thus will be directly administered by the IRS.
Because these new mandates and taxes are under the purview of the IRS, taxpayers and businesses could incur additional penalties normally reserved for normal income tax cheats, paying fees over and above those for not complying with Congress’ new mandates.
The IRS currently charges potentially hefty penalties for, among other things, filing false or fraudulent returns, filing late returns, and failure to pay a tax on time.
Taxpayers and businesses could be hit with these extra penalties because they are required to use their tax returns to prove to the IRS that they are complying with the mandates and because they will have to pay any tax penalties to that agency as well.