A Nudge on the Individual Mandate
Citing President Trump’s January 20 Executive Order, the IRS has altered the reporting mechanism for “minimum essential coverage” under the Affordable Care Act. A Form 1040 taxpayer, for example, had to check a box on line 61 to confirm coverage. If a taxpayer did not do so, the form was rejected. Because the “executive order directed federal agencies to exercise authority and discretion available to them to reduce potential burden” of the Affordable Care Act, the IRS will now accept forms without coverage designated. “When the IRS has questions about a tax return, taxpayers may receive follow-up questions and correspondence at a future date, after the filing process is completed.” To be sure, the change acknowledges that “legislative provisions of the ACA law are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law and pay what they may owe” and for taxpayers expecting a refund, the normal mechanism by which the coverage penalty was deducted may still operate. Additionally, the third-party electronic filing platforms through which many taxpayers file may also ultimately minimize the impact of the change. Yet it demonstrates the reach and importance of the Executive Order – the burden, it seems, is checking the box in order to have one’s form properly filed. If it is a gentle nudge to taxpayers as part of a broader preliminary attack at the foundations of the Affordable Care Act, how does the narrative of the IRS reporting change work if the Affordable Care Act does collapse before (if) Congress acts to replace it?