WASHINGTON (AP) — The official sign-up season for President Barack Obama's health care law may be over, but leading congressional Democrats say millions of Americans facing new tax penalties deserve a second chance.
Three senior House members told The Associated Press that they plan to strongly urge the administration to grant a special sign-up opportunity for uninsured taxpayers who will be facing fines under the law for the first time this year.
The three are Michigan's Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, and Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, and Lloyd Doggett of Texas. All worked to help steer Obama's law through rancorous congressional debates from 2009-2010.
The lawmakers say they are concerned that many of their constituents will find out about the penalties after it's already too late for them to sign up for coverage, since open enrollment ended Sunday.
That means they could wind up uninsured for another year, only to owe substantially higher fines in 2016. The fines are collected through the income tax system.
This year is the first time ordinary Americans will experience the complicated interactions between the health care law and taxes. Based on congressional analysis, tax preparation giant H&R Block says roughly 4 million uninsured people will pay penalties.
The IRS has warned that health-care related issues will make its job harder this filing season and taxpayers should be prepared for long call-center hold times, particularly since the GOP-led Congress has been loath to approve more money for the agency.
"Open enrollment period ended before many Americans filed their taxes," the three lawmakers said in a statement. "Without a special enrollment period, many people (who will be paying fines) will not have another opportunity to get health coverage this year.
"A special enrollment period will not only help many Americans avoid making an even larger payment next year, but, more importantly, it will help them gain quality health insurance for 2015," the lawmakers added.
So far, administration officials have deflected questions about whether an extension will be granted. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell has authority to grant special enrollment periods under certain circumstances.