IRS could tap refunds for health insurance penalties

April 7, 2010

By Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON, April 5 (Reuters) – The Internal Revenue Service could tap individual tax returns to collect fines against people who fail to buy health insurance as required under recently enacted healthcare legislation, the U.S. tax commissioner said on Monday.

Most individuals are required to get health insurance under the new law, or face penalties that would be phased in over time. By 2016, people without coverage could see fines of 2 percent of their income.

Subsidies would help poorer people buy coverage, and states would set up exchanges to allow individuals and small groups shop for insurance.

People who do not comply would be levied penalties, and if they don’t pay them the penalties could be taken out of their tax refunds.

“There has been some insinuation about how we are going to approach our job,” IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said after speaking at the National Press Club.

Under the new law, the IRS cannot seize assets or levy fines, so Shulman said refunds were the most obvious option to collect penalties.

The new law aims to expand coverage to about 32 million uninsured Americans.

Last month, President Barack Obama signed the legislation, which passed both houses of Congress with backing only from his fellow Democrats. Republicans have been attacking the bill ever since, calling it an overreach of government power.

Representative Dave Camp, a senior Republican on the tax-writing Ways and Means committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, issued a report shortly after its passage arguing that law “dangerously expands IRS authority.”

“The individual mandate would create millions of captive customers for health insurance companies, with the IRS acting as the enforcement agency for those companies,” Camp’s report asserted.


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