The Affordable Care Act, also known as the ACA and Obamacare, included a provision that taxed most Americans who didn’t buy and keep in place a specific type of health insurance. The reasoning behind the tax was the expectation that if EVERYONE were insured, rates would go down.
Not everyone agreed with this perspective and litigation was filed against the federal government. The Supreme Court ruling a few years later declared the Individual Mandate, the provision requiring the tax, constitutional because Congress has the power to impose taxes on Americans.
Unfortunately, everyone didn’t buy insurance after the ACA and its tax penalty became law, and the rates didn’t go down, either. In fact, in many cases they went up. And kept going up. The ACA was revised in 2017 and the tax penalty was reduced to zero effective 2019.
This was good news to all the people who chose not to buy insurance, but opponents of the ACA filed more litigation to have the entire law declared unconstitutional. The end result of that legislation brought about a ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last December. The Court ruled that if the Individual Mandate no longer contained a tax, it was unconstitutional. Essentially, if a tax is $0, it can’t be billed, collected, or enforced–so it isn’t real. Sort of like the tree falling in the woods and no one hearing it.
Anyway, what this means is that your clients who didn’t have health insurance last year, won’t be paying a tax penalty when they file they federal income tax returns ins April. However, if they live in one of the six U.S. jurisdictions that has its own Individual Mandate at the state level, they might still be taxed on their state returns if they didn’t have state-mandated coverage. Those 6 jurisdicitons are California, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Right now, opponents of the ACA who want the entire law declared unconstitutional are in the process of reviewing all the ACA’s provisions before bringing their case back to the District Court. It’s expected that the District Court will take some time considering and will eventually strike that down.