The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced on Wednesday a new opportunity for those who failed to have health insurance in 2018 to avoid a hit on their taxes.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the so-called individual mandate required nearly all Americans to have some form of health insurance coverage or face a tax penalty. Traditionally, individuals were eligible for a hardship exemption from the penalty only under certain circumstances, such as homelessness, domestic violence or natural disasters. Documentation needed to be submitted to qualify for the exemption.
The new policy allows hardship exemptions to be claimed for more general financial burdens and also eliminates the need to provide "the documentary evidence or written explanation generally required," the CMS said in a statement.
For example, an individual can now claim an exemption on their federal tax returns if "the expense of purchasing a qualified health plan would have caused him or her to experience serious deprivation of food, shelter, clothing or other necessities," according to the new policy.
Although documentation is no longer required to qualify, CMS said people should "keep with their other tax records any documentation that demonstrates qualification for the hardship exemption."
The change in policy "shows how President Trump's Administration is working to ease the burden of Obamacare," CMS Administrator Seema Verma said.
The tax penalty for the individual mandate is set to be eliminated completely starting Jan. 1, 2019, as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act introduced last year.
The individual mandate was a key part of the ACA legislation. Proponents said the requirement helped keep health insurance costs low by requiring younger people with fewer medical bills to sign up for insurance. Those customers were needed to help offset the expenses accrued by older, and sicker, customers. Without the mandate, these people argue, young people would avoid buying insurance, and insurance costs would rise.
Opponents of Obamacare, however, chafed at being forced to purchase health insurance.