Two of the most complicated facets of American life have just collided: health care and the federal income tax form. As set out in the Affordable Care Act, starting now health insurance has been woven into every individual federal tax form. Let’s ignore the effect on the ibuprofen market (investment tip?). For the IRS and for thousands of accountants, the result is a once-in-a-generation challenge: a new tax requirement for every American that could be violated accidentally, with ease.
“This is a very very big change,” says tax accountant Poonam Bansal. “It practically affects every return … clients know practically nothing about it.”
Bansal runs her own small accounting firm, Accounting Solutions, in northern Virginia. The tax expert prides herself on being meticulous and has prepared hundreds of tax forms every year for more than a decade. But this year, even as she triple checks each client’s forms, she fears it will be nearly impossible to correctly file every return as both Americans and the IRS navigate new forms and new calculations.
“I’m more worried about the IRS to be honest, because the IRS does not have enough manpower, they are already behind,” she says. “My worry is how will they handle it.”
Why? The Affordable Care Act mandate that individuals get health insurance went into effect last year. The law designated the IRS as the enforcer of that requirement and as a result, tax forms due in April 2015 check each taxpayer has health insurance. Issue one: the IRS has seen its budget cut in recent years and the agency’s chief, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, has told reporters that those cuts could affect the speed and ability of the IRS to handle tax returns.
Issue two is more for individuals. The best-case scenario involves Americans who get their health care through their job and who had no interruption in that health care. For them, the process is usually as simple as checking a box on a form.
But it is not as easy for the millions of people who purchased health care through individual exchanges or who saw a significant interruption in their coverage last year. There is concern those groups of people could unknowingly, and easily, misfile their information.
A second tax headache: the millions of Americans who received government subsidies to help pay for their health care. Those are people whose income falls between 100 percent and 400 percent of poverty. But the subsidies were based on a forecast of each persons’ income made a year ago, and many of those income estimates could have been off — pay may have increased, a job may have changed.
As a result, those receiving subsidies now need to calculate whether they received too much or too little money in subsidies and then incorporate that net difference into their tax form.
“Money always brings out the emotion in people and this year we have more emotion than any other year,” Bansal says.
One upside is this puts some accountants on a potentially uncomfortably learning curve, but the problem may be good for their industry.
“As long as we have a complicated tax code, there will always be work for our profession,” Bansal says.