The Obamacare Tax Penalty Is(n’t) Dead

Health care costs. (Photo: Valeri Potapova / Shutterstock)(Photo: Valeri Potapova / Shutterstock)

Rick, Patrick and Michael recently commented on Covered California’s Facebook page, urging others to ditch health insurance because:

“No more fines or penalties!!! Trump took care of that!! Saved me 700 bucks this year!!!”

“Trump removed the penalty for not having insurance.”

“I’m pretty sure Trump abolished the illegal penalty.”

They’re right — and wrong.

On Dec. 22, President Donald Trump did indeed sign a sweeping tax bill that repeals the Affordable Care Act’s tax penalty by zeroing out the fines.

Opponents of the tax penalty rejoiced, and many, like Rick, Patrick and Michael, assumed it took effect immediately.

Not so. The penalty won’t go away until 2019, and that means you still will owe Uncle Sam if you didn’t have health insurance — or an exemption from the mandate — in 2017. The same holds true for this year.

“There’s just mass confusion out there,” reports Steven Stasoiski, a tax accountant and insurance agent in Seal Beach, Calif.

Some of his clients decided to drop their health insurance this year without consulting him first, thinking they wouldn’t have to pay a penalty next year. “When they file next season … they’re going to be surprised,” he says.

One client, a family of four in Orange County, Calif., decided to go without insurance this year, and will owe about $15,200 next year because of it — roughly the same cost as a bronze-level health insurance plan that would protect them from catastrophic health insurance bills, Stasoiski says.

Under Obamacare, most people must have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. For 2017, the penalty is $695 per adult (up to a family maximum of $2,085), or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is greater. The penalty for children is half the adult rate ($347.50).

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You can avoid the penalty if you qualify for one of the health law’s several exemptions. For instance, you may be exempt if you were…

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