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IRS on Obamacare Mandate: Do Not Resuscitate

By  |  February 15, 2017, 09:33am  |  @MarcGiller

Our friends at Reason.com are now reporting that the Internal Revenue Service has issued a rule that it will accept tax returns filed without proof of health insurance coverage:

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.

 

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.

In other words, while the Affordable Care Act still requires individuals to prove they have health insurance on their tax forms, the IRS will no longer be enforcing that provision.

Whether or not this is actually legal remains a gray area, but from a political standpoint this is very smart.  It cements Donald Trump as a man of action who keeps his promises, while at the same time undermining an important foundation of the hated law.  Without the mandate to prop it up, the ACA–which is already on shaky financial ground, what with insurers pulling out left and right–will only accelerate its demise.  This, in turn, puts even more pressure on the Republican Congress to move forward with a full repeal and replace, rather than just nibbling at the edges as some members would prefer.

On the other hand, from a Constitutional perspective, there isn’t much to like.  Defying the law through executive orders was something that conservatives howled about during Barack Obama’s tenure, and rightly so.  Presidents are not kings, free to enforce the laws they like while ignoring the ones they don’t.  And–as Obama has discovered to his own chagrin–that which is deemed by executive order can easily be rescinded by executive order.  In the long term, it’s not really a solution if it can be scrapped with the stroke of another president’s pen.

Let’s just hope that this prods Congress into fulfilling its own promises to replace Obamacare with something that actually works,