“The shared responsibility payment.” The Orwellian language alone is enough to send freedom-loving Americans into convulsions. It conjures up memories of Justice John Roberts arguing the Obamacare “mandate” is actually a
tax penalty tax, inventing language that essentially saved the ACA legislation from a timely demise.
But there's a new POTUS in town. There won't be any IRS witch hunts for groups that admire the “Constitution,” adhere to the “tea party,” or consider themselves to be “patriots.” And it looks like the leftwing agenda of forcing Americans to carry health insurance is on the backburner — for now.
This comes by way of Reason.com:
Following President Donald Trump's executive order instructing agencies to provide relief from the health law, the Internal Revenue Service appears to be taking a more lax approach to the coverage requirement.
The health law's individual mandate requires everyone to either maintain qualifying health coverage or pay a tax penalty, known as a “shared responsibility payment.” The IRS was set to require filers to indicate whether they had maintained coverage in 2016 or paid the penalty by filling out line 61 on their form 1040s. Alternatively, they could claim exemption from the mandate by filing a form 8965.
Specifically, the IRS won't be persecuting Americans who do not respond to “line 61”:
For most filers, filling out line 61 would be mandatory. The IRS would not accept 1040s unless the coverage box was checked, or the shared responsibility payment noted, or the exemption form included. Otherwise they would be labeled “silent returns” and rejected.
Instead, however, filling out that line will be optional.
Earlier this month, the IRS quietly altered its rules to allow the submission of 1040s with nothing on line 61. The IRS says it still maintains the option to follow up with those who elect not to indicate their coverage status, although it's not clear what circumstances might trigger a follow up.
This report isn't to advise readers to avoid answering line 61, since the law mandating that Americans carry health insurance could hypothetically be enforced. But the rules change indicates that the decision to respond to the IRS question about the health insurance mandate would be “voluntary.”
Michael Cannon, health policy adviser with the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, questioned the legality of refusing to enforce the mandate in a comment cited by Reason.
“[The law] does not allow the administration not to enforce the mandate, which it appears they may be doing here,” Cannon said. “Unless the Trump administration maintains the mandate is unconstitutional, the Constitution requires them to enforce it.”
Ryan Ellis, Senior Fellow at the Conservative Reform Network, further clarified the development in the report.
“The mandate can only be weakened by Congress,” Ellis said. “This is a change to how the IRS is choosing to enforce it. They will count on voluntary disclosure of non-coverage rather than asking themselves.”