Millions May Escape Obamacare Penalty as Sign-Up Deadline Looms

INN Breaking News, March 14, 2014

Alex Wayne

“The Affordable Care Act requires people who can afford insurance to buy it, so that their medical bills are not passed onto the rest of us, which drives up health-care costs for everyone,” Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department, said in an e-mail. The form “allows a limited number of individuals who are facing hardship to apply for an exception. This exception also makes it easier to find insurance by allowing those individuals to access catastrophic- level plans.”

Before enrollment began in October, administration officials had said they hoped to meet a Congressional Budget Office enrollment target of 7 million people in private plans in 2014. The CBO revised that estimate to 6 million in February.

There are 14 categories of exemptions, including one covering low-income people who have been denied Medicaid coverage in the 25 states that have declined to expand that program under the health-care law. That population alone may number about 5 million, according to the Kaiser foundation.

Firm Deadline

U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius reiterated earlier this week that the administration will neither extend the March 31 deadline to sign up for Affordable Care Act plans or lift the mandate to carry coverage. People liable for the mandate who don’t have insurance will pay fines, in the form of extra taxes next year, amounting to as much as 1 percent of their income. Exemptions from the mandate will be decided on a case-by-case basis, the government said.

It’s likely that the administration has tried to make the mandate easy to avoid, said Joseph Antos, a health economist at the nonprofit American Enterprise Institute who advises the Congressional Budget Office. Mendelson, of Avalere Health, said the government would be wise to clarify who is likely to be approved for an exemption.

“They know that the individual mandate will be very hard to enforce, and the penalty for not complying both difficult to determine and politically disastrous to try to collect,” Antos said in an e-mail. The government’s published list of exemptions, he said, is probably intended “to give people who don’t like the mandate ideas of how they can avoid it.”

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