Don't be in a hurry to file: New tax form crucial for those who bought health marketplace plans

Don't be in a hurry to file: New tax form crucial for those who bought health marketplace plans

January 25th, 2015 by Kate Belz in Local Regional News

Nancy Ridge, program manager for the Chattanooga Medical Society, attempts to simplify a series of steps that some area residents will need to take in providing their health insurance status to the government while filing taxes this year.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Types of forms

Form 1095-A -- This is a crucial document for those who bought insurance on HealthCare.gov and got subsidies. You need it to fill out a form called the 8962 that must be included in your tax return. You will get this form in the mail, or can download it from your profile on HealthCare.gov.

Form 8962 -- You will not get this form in the mail. The 8962 form has to come from the IRS, or a tax assister will have it.

Form 8965 -- Lists the possible exemptions and lets you claim the one that might apply.

What applies to me?

* If you are covered through your employer, Medicaid or Medicare -- Check a box on your tax return saying that you had coverage all year. You will not be required to fill out new forms when you file your 2014 income tax returns.
* If you bought marketplace coverage and got a subsidy -- Check the box saying you had coverage, but then you have several additional steps. Read the "Important Steps" box for more.
* You could not buy insurance -- Some uninsured people will not have to pay a penalty if they meet one of about 30 exemptions. Some exemptions include: If the lowest priced plan available to you would have cost more than 8 percent of your income; if you were uninsured for only a short period of time; if a close family member passed away, and other hardships. For a complete list of exemptions and more information, visit HealthCare.gov/taxes.
* You could have afforded coverage in 2014, but chose not to buy it: Absent an exemption, you will have to pay a fee based on your income and how many months you didn't have coverage. If that was all of 2014, you'll pay the higher of $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, limited to a family maximum of $285, or 1 percent of your income, whichever is greater. Next year that will go up.

Important steps

If you enrolled in health insurance through the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace you will need to complete the following steps when preparing to file your 2014 Federal Income Tax.
1. WAIT -- It's very important to wait for Form 1095-A to arrive before you file your taxes. In most states, you can also download a copy of your statement through your marketplace account starting in late January or early February. But if you no longer have access to your online account, proceed to step No. 2.
2. WATCH THE MAIL -- You will receive Form 1095-A in the mail from the marketplace by early February in an envelope labeled "Important Tax or Health Coverage Information Inside." If you haven't received a Form 1095-A by early February, you should contact the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596.
3. KEEP IT ALL -- Keep all hard copies of the documents with your other important tax information, like your W-2. You will need the information on the 1095-A form when you file your taxes.
4. VERIFY -- Make sure that all the information on the 1095-A form about you and/or your household is correct. If you think information on the 1095-A form is incorrect, visit www.healthcare.gov/tax-issues to find out how to get a corrected form or call 1-800-318-2596.
5. ASK FOR HELP -- Visit www.irs.gov for a list of free tax preparers in your area or call 211 for free, tax-assistance VITA sites.
6. GET STARTED -- Information from the 1095-A will be used to complete the 8962 form that is required when filing your tax return. The 8962 document can be found at www.irs.gov or from a free tax assister.
7. DON'T PANIC -- If you already filed your tax return before you received the 1095-A form you can file an amended federal income tax return. However, you will not receive your income tax refund until you have included the 1095-A form with your income tax.
Sources: Chattanooga Medical Foundation, Erlanger Health Systems

This year, it may be good to procrastinate -- just a bit -- on your tax return.

Amid the flurry of commercials and ads urging people to file taxes promptly so they can get their hands on their refunds, Nancy Ridge is striving to push out another message: "Hold on."

That's because this year, two of the most complicated issues Americans grapple with -- taxes and health insurance -- are "on a collision course," said Ridge, manager of the health care navigator program with the Chattanooga Medical Foundation.

For the first time, Americans filing their 2014 tax returns will have to report their health insurance status to the federal government. And for people who bought health insurance through the federal marketplace, HealthCare.gov, there are even more new hoops to jump through.

"The Affordable Care Act has made health insurance a tax issue," said Joe Lautigar, a CPA and franchisee of H&R Block in Chattanooga. "I've been doing taxes for 20 years, and this is easily by far the biggest change and the most complicated process to add to tax return since the late 1980s. It's a whole new world."

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen also declared this tax season one of the most complicated ever. That's because filers will, for the first time, have to deal with the "individual mandate" -- the part of the health law that requires every American to have health coverage or face a financial penalty.

For more than three-quarters of Americans filing tax returns, the only change will be a small box they will have to check on their Form 1040 indicating they had health coverage for all of 2014.

But for people who bought subsidized health insurance through the marketplace, there are new forms to wait and watch for. Form 1095-A will be sent out by the marketplace and is necessary to help filers complete Form 8962, which must be attached to tax returns this year.

"It's not optional," said Lautigar.

The problem is that many people are rushing to file their taxes, unaware that they need to include forms that may not arrive in the mail until early February.

"The majority of these people do not even know it's coming," Ridge said. "Our biggest, loudest message is, 'Wait for 1095-A. Don't do your taxes without it.'"

While the health law itself has attracted plenty of publicity and controversy, the tax details have been largely overlooked. Consequently, local navigators such as Ridge say they are worried that the new requirements will be overlooked by many, and that the hangups may delay some people's tax refunds until this fall.

More than 8,550 people in Hamilton County, 151,000 Tennesseans and 316,500 Georgians bought health insurance from the exchanges last year.

Still, Ridge and others say the process does not have be worrisome, so long as people are aware of the changes and are willing to seek help. People can get assistance at free, government-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites or other tax-assistance companies.

"The key to filing your 2014 federal income tax is not to feel overwhelmed with the changes," said Katherlyn Geter, Erlanger Health System's ACA program manager. "Individuals should not hesitate to ask for professional tax assistance when filing their taxes this year. Many of the tax professionals are well aware of the changes and are prepared to help."

UNDERSTANDING SUBSIDIES

One of the ways the federal government sought to convince people to buy health insurance under the ACA is by providing advance tax credits for shoppers. Those subsidies, tied to income, help pay for monthly premiums.

About 86 percent of the 7 million people who bought marketplace coverage during the first enrollment period last year qualified for some level of subsidy, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

More than 450,000 people last year took advantage of the assistance in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. Within the first month of this year's open enrollment, 83 percent of the 184,000 Tennesseans who have bought plans on the exchange qualified for the tax breaks.

But tax season is where those subsidies are supposed to be vetted, Ridge said. That is why the 1095-A form is so crucial. Without professional tax-preparation assistance, filing can be complicated, she added, holding up the new 15-page instruction guide from the IRS.

That form contains information necessary to fill out the new 8962 form, which in turn needs to be attached to a tax return. Federal officials will reconcile a person's actual income against his or her original estimate when applying for subsidies.

So, for example, if your job changed and you ended up making more than you originally put on your health insurance application, you will have to repay the subsidy, probably from your tax refund. Conversely, if you earned less than you originally reported, the federal government will increase your refund.

Failing to include the proper forms could delay refunds for months.

Filers can download the 1095-A form through their HealthCare.gov accounts, but Ridge said most of the people her navigators enrolled do not have email.

Anyone who files their taxes without attaching the 8962 form could have to file an amended tax return later, Ridge said -- possibly delaying that person's income tax refund for months.

The issue is complex, which is why navigators are encouraging people to get professional help, including from free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites across the area, such as one at Eastgate Center.

Lautigar said his employees have each had between 40 and 60 hours of training on ACA specifics and he has personally spent about 200 hours of training acquainting himself with the new rules.

Need more help?

* Free tax assistance is available from VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assisters) sites throughout Hamilton County. VITA sites can be found by calling 211 or going to www.IRS.gov/freefile or www.IRS.gov/VITA.
* If you have any questions, contact a certified navigator at The Medical Foundation 423-622-2872, or certified application counselors at Erlanger Health Systems 423-778-7828, or Erlanger's Community Health Centers: Dodson Avenue at 423-778-2800 or Southside at 423-778-2700.
* There are more resources available at www.IRS.gov or www.healthcare.gov/taxes. You can also call the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596.

"Normally I'm excited when I start tax season -- I mean, I love this job. This year, I'm just already tired," Lautigar said.

And this is just the beginning. While only those who bought coverage on the marketplace this year will need forms, next year everyone will be required to hand in tax forms proving they have insurance.

THE PENALTY

Tax season is also the time people who opted not to buy insurance last year will have to pay a penalty.

The penalty for being uninsured in 2014 is either a flat dollar amount, $95 per adult with a family maximum of $285, or 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater. That could be a higher penalty than people were anticipating, said Andrew Hetzler, COO of Chattanooga-based American Exchange.

"We've seen many people who think they can avoid the penalty for last year by buying insurance now," said Hetzler. "It's just too late. But they can avoid the 2015 penalty if they buy plans now."

This year, tax assisters say they expect many people will be willing to pay the penalty, which typically comes out of tax refunds. But Lautigar said the penalty "will really ratchet up next year."

Penalties in 2015 will be 2 percent of household income, or $325 per person, unless they qualify for an exemption.

A poll released by the Kaiser Family Foundation in December found that 72 percent of Americans do not know what the fine will be for people who do not get insurance in 2015. Another 19 percent guessed wrongly, while just 3 percent came close.

That is why enrollment outreach groups are trying to stress that the enrollment window closes Feb. 15.

Already 10,474 people in Hamilton County have signed up for coverage. But advocates expect a surge of sign-ups during the home stretch, especially as more people become aware of the subsides and local sign-up assistance, said Jacob Flowers, state director of Get Covered America-Tennessee, an arm of Enroll America.

"We know we're going to see far more than the tens of thousands here who are already enrolled, sign-up in these final weeks," Flowers said.

Contact staff writer Kate Belz at kbelz@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.