While the Affordable Care Act has encouraged millions of Americas to sign up for health insurance during this year’s open enrollment period, there still will be plenty of individuals who will skip out on enrolling. While they file their 2016 taxes, those people may get an unwelcome surprise.
The health law’s individual mandate includes a penalty for those who fail to sign up, and the average fine for remaining without coverage is going up significantly in 2016. In 2014, the first year of Obamacare, the fine was just $95 per person or 1% of the family’s income, whichever was higher. In 2016, the penalty will be either a flat dollar amount of $695 per adult as well as $347.50 per child, or 2.5 percent of family income, whichever is greater. The maximum flat-dollar amount will be $2,085 per family.
While the government hasn’t kept the penalties secret, many Americans may not full grasp the escalating fines, given the law’s complexity. But plenty have already felt the penalty in its first year: 7.5 million taxpayers reported paying up in 2014 for lacking insurance, with an average fine of $200.
“Certainly, people should know about it. Whether they do know about it or not is another question,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president for special initiaitives as the Kaiser Family Foundation. “People have been confused about Obamacare from the start, not just the penalties but the help available to help pay their premiums.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation, in a report issued in early December, projected the average fine paid by a household that is uninsured will be $969 in 2016, up from an estimated $661 per household in 2015. That might be enough to encourage many consumers to enroll through a health exchange. The same Kaiser report estimates after tax credits are factored in, 3.5 millions uninsured people could buy coverage for 2016 for $0 premiums, or less than they would owe in fines for not having health insurance.
Still, another 7.1 million uninsured Americans will find that the cheapest ACA plan will cost more than the penalty, Kaiser found. Needless to say, that could sway their decision toward remaining uninsured.
Open enrollment for 2016 began on Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 31.