40 Percent of Long-Term Uninsured Say They Were Unaware of Penalty

(Chicago Tribune/TNS) —

Many who went without health insurance last year didn’t know they would face a penalty at tax time in 2015, the federal government said Friday.

Starting Sunday, they were eligible for a special period to enroll in 2015 coverage. Signing up won’t get them off the hook for not having coverage last year. But they’ll avoid a penalty when they do their taxes next year.

About 40 percent of uninsured people didn’t know staying uninsured came with a fee, said Andy Slavitt, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

This tax season, consumers who didn’t have coverage in 2014 face a fine of $95 per person or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, under the federal Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. That fine increases each year, to $325 or 2 percent of income in 2015 and $695 or 2.5 percent of income in 2016.

The federal government said in February it would hold a special enrollment period for people who were uninsured in 2014 and confused about signing up for insurance this year. That window began Sunday and goes through April 30.

“We are very much committed to listening and learning from our consumers,” said Kevin Counihan, CEO of the federal health-insurance marketplace Healthcare.gov. “We’re certainly not in the business of looking to collect fees or penalize people. We’re here to facilitate access to affordable health insurance.”

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