IRS chief: Buy health insurance or lose your tax refund

Gautham Nagesh Contributor
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Individuals who don’t purchase health insurance may lose their tax refunds according to IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. After acknowledging the recently passed health-care bill limits the agency’s options for enforcing the individual mandate, Shulman told reporters that the most likely way to penalize individuals that don’t comply is by reducing or confiscating their tax refunds.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Monday, Shulman downplayed the IRS’s role in enforcing the recent overhaul of the health insurance industry by claiming the agency would not aggressively target individuals who don’t purchase coverage. He noted that the health-care bill expressly forbids the agency from freezing bank accounts, seizing assets or pursuing criminal charges, but when pressed said the IRS would most likely use tax refund offsets to penalize those that don’t comply with the mandate. The IRS uses refund offsets to collect from individuals that owe the federal government a delinquent debt.

“These are not the kinds of things we send agents out about,” Shulman said. “These are things where you get a letter from us. Congress was very careful to make sure there was nothing too punitive in this bill.”

Many reports have claimed that enforcement of the individual mandate will be non-existent, but Shulman’s answers indicate differently. According to BusinessWeek, starting in 2015 Americans who don’t purchase insurance will be subject to a fine of $325 and that sum increases to $695 in 2016. However, the commissioner seemed confident that in most cases individuals would either receive subsidies to purchase insurance or simply do so on their own in order to comply with the law.

“The vast majority of American people have a healthy respect for the law and want to be compliant with their tax obligations,” Shulman said, mentioning letters, collection notices and offsets as among the various ways the IRS will reach out to people without coverage.

During his speech Shulman said threats against the IRS have not risen despite media reports to the contrary. He disagreed that it has become more dangerous to work for the IRS following the February incident in which a disgruntled pilot flew his plane into the agency’s Austin, Texas office, killing one employee.

“There’s been a lot of stuff in the press around increased threats, which is actually inaccurate,” Shulman said. “What there has been is increased chatter on the Internet that has an anti-government sentiment.”

He also said it is too early to know what additional resources or how many employees the IRS will need to enforce compliance with the mandate and clarified his reasons for using a professional tax preparer.

“I wouldn’t read into anything about me doing it now,” Shulman said. “I’m just a busy guy and have had good service for the past 15 years.”

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