A Nudge on the Individual Mandate

by Sam Halabi — Sunday, Mar. 12, 2017

Citing President Trump’s January 20 Executive Order, the IRS has altered the reporting mechanism for “minimum essential coverage” under the Affordable Care Act. A Form 1040 taxpayer, for example, had to check a box on line 61 to confirm coverage. If a taxpayer did not do so, the form was rejected. Because the “executive order directed federal agencies to exercise authority and discretion available to them to reduce potential burden” of the Affordable Care Act, the IRS will now accept forms without coverage designated. “When the IRS has questions about a tax return, taxpayers may receive follow-up questions and correspondence at a future date, after the filing process is completed‎.” To be sure, the change acknowledges that “legislative provisions of the ACA law are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law and pay what they may owe‎” and for taxpayers expecting a refund, the normal mechanism by which the coverage penalty was deducted may still operate. Additionally, the third-party electronic filing platforms through which many taxpayers file may also ultimately minimize the impact of the change. Yet it demonstrates the reach and importance of the Executive Order – the burden, it seems, is checking the box in order to have one’s form properly filed. If it is a gentle nudge to taxpayers as part of a broader preliminary attack at the foundations of the Affordable Care Act, how does the narrative of the IRS reporting change work if the Affordable Care Act does collapse before (if) Congress acts to replace it?

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About Sam Halabi

Professor Halabi is a scholar of national and global health law with a specialization in health services, pharmaceutical and agrifood business organizations. He serves as a Scholar at the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, where he has also served as a special advisor to the Lancet-Georgetown University Commission on Global Health and Law. His work is published in the American Journal of Law and Medicine, the Harvard International Law Journal, the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics, the Lancet, and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). He has also published volumes on pharmaceutical regulation and global management of infectious disease with Oxford University Press and Elsevier Academic Press. Before earning his J.D. from Harvard Law School, Professor Halabi was awarded a British Marshall scholarship to study in the United Kingdom where he earned an M.Phil in International Relations from the University of Oxford (St. Antony’s College). During the 2003-04 academic year, he served as a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar at the American University of Beirut.

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