The IRS is ready to send out millions of letters to taxpayers to let them know that if they don't sign up for an Obamacare health insurance plan, they will have to pay the penalty.
Republicans in Congress are objecting to the plan because it threatens the privacy of individual taxpayers.
“In keeping with our commitment to taxpayer confidentiality, we will send the letters directly to taxpayers; under no circumstances will we share the identities of these taxpayers or any other protected taxpayer information with CMS or with any other entity,” IRS Commissioner John G. Koskinen told Congress on Oct. 31, in documents obtained by The Washington Times.But congressional Republicans, already intent on repealing the health law, say tapping the IRS to boost Obamacare is dangerous, and risks disclosure of taxpayers’ secret information to others in the government.According to congressional aides, the IRS is set to dispatch the letters in two batches before key enrollment deadlines.It will send notices to 800,000 filers between Nov. 28 and Dec. 5 — ahead of the Dec. 15 deadline to buy a plan in time to be covered by Jan. 1. An additional 6.7 million Obamacare holdouts will see an IRS notice in January as the administration makes a last-ditch plea for sign-ups ahead of the final Jan. 31 deadline.Draft versions of the letters warn recipients that they owed a penalty in 2015 and, unless they sign up now, will “likely owe a penalty for 2017 as well.”Some versions of the letter even detail the potential costs — a minimum of $695 for an adult, with the chance for a much higher penalty “depending on your income.” Those with higher incomes must pay 2.5 percent of their earnings.The letters say enrolling in an Obamacare exchange plan generally costs $75 per month or less once taxpayer-funded subsidies are taken into account.The campaign is part of President Obama’s attempts to put his signature law on firmer footing by driving up enrollment, particularly among young, healthy people, who could stabilize premiums under the program, before he hands off his legacy item to President-elect Donald Trump.The Obama administration had hoped to be turning the fate of the law over to Hillary Clinton, who had said she would defend and build on Obamacare.Instead, the 2017 sign-up season will conclude under a Trump administration that’s vowed to unravel the exchanges as part of a broader push to repeal and replace the law.
Using the IRS in this manner is pure intimidation. Getting a letter with "Internal Revenue Service" as the return address is designed to frighten taxpayers into signing up for insurance.
It is the taxpayers' responsibility to know how much they owe the government, and that includes the penalty for not having insurance. Little reminders like this from the taxman are unnecessary – unless you're the Obama administration, desperately trying to save a failed program.
Concerns about privacy may or may not be valid. But given what the IRS has done over the last seven years, Congress should keep an eagle eye on what the agency is up to.