There's a lot to digest about how the ACA works, and much is buried in a complex, convoluted maze of regulations and procedures. A few websites contain explanations, but very important details have either been left out or glossed over. These details are well worth understanding so you will know what's at stake for you and your family. This lesson is not meant to convey a political opinion. This is how the ACA works, and under this law there are no sacred cows.
In today's lesson, you will learn why 2013 is an important year for many of you with regard to your income and the ACA. We will discuss 1) use of Modified Adjusted Gross Income, 2) tax credits (help paying for insurance), 3) your share of the premium, 4) paying back the tax credits to the IRS, 5) expansion of Medicaid and estate recovery which could affect you if you are put into that plan, 6) inadequate coverage in most subsidized plans, 7) penalties, 8) exemptions and 9) a few tidbits. We'll also take a look at the agenda of Enroll America and the Health Insurance Exchanges, and what you can expect to hear in the very near future.
Here we go. Fasten your seat belts...
1. HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGE BASICS
In 2014, each state will have an Affordable Insurance Exchange where qualified individuals and families with incomes between 138 and 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) can shop for commercial insurance policies. Most individuals and families with incomes at or below 138 percent FPL will be put into Medicaid. You may be eligible for help paying for your insurance in the form of a tax credit. In most states, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will continue to cover children in families with incomes up to at least 200 percent FPL. Some states may offer a Basic Health Plan for those who earn up to 200 percent FPL and are not eligible for Medicaid. Under limited circumstances, you may also be eligible for a cost-sharing credit.
Eligibility to receive a tax credit, the amount of your tax credit and your out-of-pocket share for the insurance will be determined by your income and where you fall in the Federal Poverty Level Guidelines (FPL). This is easy to understand.
Your annual gross income determines which FPL you're in. For example, based on 2012 FPL Guidelines, an individual with an annual income of $33,510 is at 300 percent FPL; a family of 4 with an annual income of $69,150 is at 300 percent FPL. To see where you're at, try the handy calculator at this link. FPL Guidelines are revised every January, so the 2013 edition should be up soon.
The ACA requires use of MODIFIED ADJUSTED GROSS INCOME (MAGI) instead of Adjusted Gross Income for all determinations made by an Exchange including eligibility for Medicaid except in certain cases. So, in this lesson, we'll refer to annual income as MAGI.
Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) is defined as Adjusted Gross Income PLUS...
a) all tax exempt interest accrued or received in the taxable year;
b) the non-taxable portion of Social Security benefits provided under Title II of the Social Security Act which includes old-age benefits, disability benefits, spousal benefits, child benefits, survivor benefits and parental benefits;
c) tier 1 Railroad Retirement benefits that are not includible in gross income; and...
d) the exclusion from gross income for citizens or residents living abroad.
The adoption of MAGI, created by the ACA, is defined in a new section of the IRS code.
2. DETERMINING ELIGIBILITY FOR A TAX CREDIT
The tax credit is to help you pay for insurance. The ACA says it must be based on annual income for the tax year it's received, but since you will need help paying for your plan during that year, the ACA allows for advance payment of the tax credit.
Here's an example of what that means: Let's say you apply for insurance at an Exchange in 2014. Therefore, 2014 is the tax year you will receive your tax credit, and per the ACA, the amount you receive must be based on that year's MAGI. But, that year's MAGI won't be available until 2015 when you file your 2014 tax return and you need help paying for your insurance plan when you buy it in 2014. So, the amount of your tax credit has to be determined on information that is available such as your prior-year (2013) tax return. Thus, the tax credit morphs into an "advance payment of the tax credit" (also referred to as an advance premium assistance credit). Now you see why 2013 is an important year for many of you.
The ACA allows for limited disclosure of tax return info in order for an Exchange employee to verify your citizenship status and MAGI, and, not only to let you know how much your advance tax credit will be, but also to see if you are eligible to receive this in the first place. An Exchange can also consider using your real-time income by looking at your state's most current quarterly wage database, or it may agree to accept paper verification (pay stubs, etc.) as a last resort or an attestation of your income with no verification. Creation of a federal "data services hub" is in the works so your income information will be more readily accessible. But, no matter how this plays out, you'll still receive an advance payment of the tax credit because your actual MAGI for 2014 will not be known by you nor can it be verified by an Exchange until you file your 2014 tax return in 2015.