Tax Preparers Help Boost Obamacare Numbers

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Americans can kill two birds with one stone by filing their taxes and buying health insurance at the same time.

The Obama administration has found a new ally in its quest to help uninsured Americans buy individual health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Tax return customers of H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt Tax Service are also getting free help applying for health insurance.

Says MarketWatch:

After taxpayers are done with their returns, H&R Block helps them estimate what their premiums would cost if they were to qualify for a premium subsidy tax credit to help lower insurance costs and to calculate how big a penalty they will have to pay if they lack insurance coverage. People who want to shop for insurance are connected with agents from GoHealth LLC, an online insurance broker who can help them compare plans and apply for insurance on HealthCare.gov. …

People who get their taxes done with Jackson Hewitt Tax Service can get help filling out an application for Medicaid and are given the option of calling a broker at GetInsured, a private health insurance exchange, for help filling out an application on HealthCare.gov.

Meanwhile, TurboTax has provided an online tool to walk people through a similar process, it explains in this blog post.

(Remember: Only those who buy individual health insurance through HealthCare.gov or one of the state online marketplaces are eligible for the premium subsidy, in the form of a tax credit.)

This new service from the tax preparers appears to be a win-win for both the customers and the tax prep companies.

  • You’ll find out if you’re eligible for the subsidy and how big it is. (You can also do that at HealthCare.gov or your state’s online marketplace, if it has one.)
  • You’ll find out how much of a penalty you’ll pay if you don’t have health insurance this year. Just about everyone is required to have health insurance in 2014 or pay a penalty — the larger of $95 or 1 percent of your annual adjusted gross income. The penalty will be deducted from next year’s tax refund.
  • The tax preparation firms stand to make a commission when people buy health plans.

Says CNBC:

“… it worked out for me,” said [Leah Beth] Brummett, a student and website sales employee who after a decade of going without health insurance signed up at Jackson Hewitt’s suggestion with GetInsured that day. She enrolled in an Obamacare plan with a sticker price of $280 per month — but after government subsidies, she’ll pay about $28 per month for coverage.

Bloomberg says the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., found that “three-quarters of people who qualify for subsidies under Obamacare file federal income tax returns — and most use one of the big tax prep firms. That makes them an ideal target audience.”

Neither H&R Block nor Jackson Hewitt would disclose how many taxpayers they’ve helped to buy health insurance. But Stan Dorn, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who has studied the issue, told Bloomberg, “My guess is certainly tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands … .” 

Stacy Johnson

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