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For Taxpayers Facing Two Years Of Penalties, Advocates Urge Health Care Enrollment Extension

calculator for paying taxes and avoiding health insurance penalty

Last week's deadline for signing up for health insurance on the exchanges will be long passed by the time many people file their taxes this March and April. But that may be the first time it sinks in for some people that they  owe a penalty for not having insurance last year. Consumer advocates want the government to give them a chance to sign up for 2015 coverage after the enrollment deadline.

But federal officials say they’re not making any promises.

“There’s still a lack of awareness about the requirement to have insurance and opportunities for people to get subsidies to make it more affordable,” says Rachel Klein, director of organizational strategy at Families USA, a consumer advocacy group.

Families USA and other consumer groups are urging the government to create a special enrollment period of up to 60 days for uninsured people who file their taxes after open enrollment ends on Sunday.

“This is a great teachable moment,” Klein says. Last year, Families USA advocated aligning the tax filing deadline with the open enrollment deadline.

Uninsured consumers who miss Sunday’s deadline could be on the hook not only for 2014 taxes, but also for 2015.

Generally, unless people experience a life event such as marriage or loss of on-the-job coverage they can’t buy insurance on the exchanges beyond the annual enrollment period.

Meanwhile, the penalty for not having coverage is getting steeper. For 2014, it’s $95 per adult or 1 percent of annual income, whichever is greater. In 2015, the financial consequences increase to the greater of $325 per person or 2 percent of annual income.

Although administration officials have been quoted in some news accounts saying they might consider a special enrollment period for people who file taxes after Feb. 15, it’s not a done deal by any means.

In a conference call to discuss enrollment progress on the federal exchange earlier this week, Andrew Slavitt, principal deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said, “Consumers should consider February 15 as their last opportunity to get coverage, and we won’t be considering anything until we get through this open enrollment period.”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nonprofit national health policy news service.