Some States Impose Penalties on Uninsured Residents, Despite the Absence of a Federal Penalty
While the federal government no longer enforces an individual mandate penalty, several states have independently implemented their own mandates and associated penalties. Here’s what you need to know:
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Massachusetts: A Longstanding Individual Mandate
Massachusetts has had an individual mandate since 2006, which remains in effect. Although the state suspended penalties while the federal mandate was active, they reinstated them in 2019. The penalty is calculated as 50 percent of the lowest-cost health plan available. However, there is no penalty if your income is up to 150 percent of the poverty level.
New Jersey: Modeled After the ACA Penalty
In 2019, New Jersey implemented its own individual mandate, closely resembling the ACA penalty. The maximum penalty is based on the average cost of a bronze plan in the state. The revenue generated from the penalty supports the state’s new reinsurance program.
District of Columbia: Mayor Bowser Approves Individual Mandate
The District of Columbia’s City Council approved an individual mandate in 2018, which went into effect in 2019. The penalty is modeled after the ACA sanction and based on the average cost of a bronze plan in DC. The proceeds are used for outreach, enrollment assistance, and improving coverage availability and affordability within the district.
California: Individual Mandate for 2020
Starting in 2020, California implemented its own individual mandate, also modeled after the ACA penalty. The revenue generated supports the state’s new premium subsidies, which are available to a wider range of income levels compared to the ACA’s subsidies.
Rhode Island: Individual Mandate for 2020
In 2020, Rhode Island introduced its own individual mandate, with a penalty similar to the ACA sanction. The funds raised from the penalty contribute to the state’s reinsurance program.
Vermont: Toothless Individual Mandate
Vermont enacted legislation for an individual mandate in 2020. However, lawmakers couldn’t agree on a penalty, rendering the mandate essentially toothless. Nonetheless, future legislative sessions may impose a penalty. The state currently focuses on using taxpayers’ individual mandate information to identify uninsured residents and provide assistance in obtaining affordable health coverage.
The Federal Individual Mandate Sanction from 2014 to 2018
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) included an individual mandate that required Americans to purchase health coverage or face a tax penalty, unless they qualified for an exemption. While the law aimed to make health insurance more accessible, the individual mandate was repealed in 2019 through the Republican tax bill.
The individual mandate penalty played a crucial role in keeping premiums lower. It ensured that healthy individuals remained part of the insured pool, especially after coverage for pre-existing conditions became guaranteed. Although the ACA’s premium subsidies also contribute to affordable coverage, the individual mandate had a significant impact on premium rates.
Uninsured tax filers were more likely to be exempt from the penalty rather than face it. In 2014, only 7.9 million taxpayers out of more than 138 million returns were subject to the penalty. In contrast, 12 million taxpayers qualified for an exemption. These numbers decreased in subsequent years as overall enrollment in health insurance plans increased.
The Impact on Most Americans
For the majority of Americans, the individual mandate had little effect. The penalty waivers were more common than penalty assessments. Most individuals already received health insurance through employers or government programs like Medicaid or Medicare. Such coverage counted as minimum essential coverage, exempting individuals from the penalty.
However, plans that didn’t meet major medical coverage requirements, like short-term plans, did subject individuals to the penalty. The penalty varied based on income, with higher-income families facing more substantial fines. Nevertheless, the penalties rarely applied to many people due to their existing coverage.
Changes to Federal Tax Returns
As of 2019, the question regarding health insurance coverage no longer appears on the federal Form 1040. However, specific state tax returns in Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia still include questions related to health coverage. These state returns aim to connect uninsured residents with affordable options.
Additionally, individuals who receive premium subsidies or need to reconcile their subsidies still use Form 8962 on their federal tax returns. Exchanges, insurers, and employers continue to report coverage details through forms 1095-a, b, and c.
Understanding the penalties and exemptions related to health insurance is crucial for avoiding unnecessary costs and ensuring appropriate coverage. Stay informed about your state’s individual mandates and seek guidance from professionals or resources provided by your local government.