Audit: Changes to healthcare law could hurt IRS customer service

Changes to the tax provisions in President Obama’s healthcare law could hurt the IRS’s ability to tell taxpayers what’s required of them, a new Treasury audit says.

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Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration said that the IRS – which is scheduled to become the public face for healthcare customer service in 2015 – has sufficient programs in place to inform taxpayers about ObamaCare’s tax requirements.

But alterations to the Affordable Care Act – like the administration’s decision last July to delay the so-called employer mandate for a year – could put a crimp in those customer service efforts, the inspector general said.

“Changes in ACA implementation will create challenges,” Russell George, the tax administration inspector general, said in a statement. “Depending on the nature of any changes made to ACA tax provisions, the IRS’s strategy and plans to provide customer service, outreach, education, and employee training could be affected.” 

“Changes to the provisions could also affect the IRS’s plans to update its tax forms, instructions, and publications,” George added.

The audit comes as the IRS is trying to cope with a reduced budget, something the agency's new commissioner, John Koskinen, has warned could hurt its customer service efforts. The IRS is scheduled to receive roughly $11.3 billion in fiscal 2014, well under both what the Obama administration requested and what the agency received in 2010 – the year the healthcare measure was signed into law.

Koskinen has said that he believes his agency's implementation of ObamaCare is on track, but the Treasury inspector general warned that the IRS could have to cut back in other areas if it faces further budget cuts. In all, the IRS expects to get contacted more than 11 million times this year with Affordable Care Act questions. 

Still, the inspector general also said that the IRS currently had solid strategies for educating taxpayers, updating tax forms and training employees on how to deal with ACA questions.

The healthcare law forces most people to obtain a minimum level of insurance coverage starting this year, or face a fine imposed by the IRS. The law also offers tax credits that help offset the cost for many consumers to buy health insurance.

Taxpayers will have to start reporting the amount of tax credits they receive and other ObamaCare-related information on their returns starting in 2015. The Health and Human Services Department will be the public face of the law until that year, with the IRS generally referring consumers to healthcare.gov and other HHS resources.

Congressional Republicans have pushed to delay other parts of the healthcare law – like the individual mandate – in the wake of the employer mandate delay.

 

This post was updated at 6:43 p.m.