ObamaCare gets extra sign-up period to clear tax issues

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The Obama administration is setting up a new ObamaCare sign-up period for people who failed to file 2014 tax returns. 

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Jan. 31 was the deadline for most people to sign up, but this new period will provide another chance until March 31, for certain people who might have missed out on coverage because of confusion about new ObamaCare requirements regarding taxes and health insurance. 

People who received tax credits under ObamaCare to help them afford insurance in 2014 were required to file a 2014 tax return in order to make sure they received the right amount of credit. If people failed to file a tax return, they became ineligible for further tax credits starting in 2016. 

Without the tax credits, many people would find coverage unaffordable, and would be likely to forgo coverage altogether. 

This new period gives them a chance to sign up, with tax credits, if they go back and file their return for 2014. 

It is unclear exactly how many people are eligible for the new sign-up period. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said it “believes there are only a relatively small number of consumers who will qualify.”

The administration said last month that about 43,000 applicants had lost their tax credits and were now bearing the full cost of their insurance plans, as of Jan. 1, because they failed to file a 2014 tax return. 

Many of those people are likely to have dropped coverage that had become unaffordable. Those people are now eligible to sign up in the new period, as long as they go back and file their return first. 

There is also a second group of people who are eligible for the new sign-up period. This group had ObamaCare coverage in 2014, dropped it in 2015, and tried to sign up in 2016, but was blocked from receiving tax credits because they had not filed their 2014 return.

It is unclear how big this second group is, but Tim Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee University and an expert on the health law, said he expects the total number of people eligible for the new period to be “well under” 100,000. 

In justifying the new sign-up period, CMS noted that this is the first year that the requirement to have filed a tax return in order to keep receiving tax credits is in effect, and that it is “committed” to helping people “understand and meet” the new requirements. 

Insurers, though, have raised objections to the extra sign-up periods, known as Special Enrollment Periods, and in particular have pointed to a lack of documentation required to verify that people actually qualify.

Insurers say a sicker group of people is signing up during the extra periods, contributing to many insurers losing money on the ObamaCare marketplaces.