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People who’ve decided they don’t want to pay a tax penalty for lacking health insurance have some more chances to get help signing up.

By Rose Hoban

People who didn’t sign up for health insurance on the online marketplace this winter have one last chance to sign up in coming days.

As the Affordable Care Act goes fully into effect, people who are eligible to buy insurance but who chose not to in 2014 will have to pay a fine when they file taxes next week.

More than half a million North Carolinians enrolled for health insurance on the online marketplace before the enrollment period ended in mid-February. But tens of thousands more people will face tax penalties next week because they remain uninsured.

“Now many people are finding out they had to pay a fine,” said Sorien Schmidt, head of North Carolina’s branch of Enroll America, a not-for-profit organization that’s coordinating sign-ups for the exchanges in 11 states.

So Schmidt’s organization is teaming up again with Legal Aid of North Carolina and other organizations to host events around the state to help people who missed the February deadline to enroll in 2015 health coverage. Uninsured people can avoid the full fine next year by enrolling before April 30.

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Get free help enrolling this week:

RALEIGH:  Catholic Charities Hispanic Family Center, 2013 Raleigh Blvd.
Wednesday, April 8, 2 p.m.-6 p.m.

GREENSBORO: Shiloh Baptist Church – Otis L. Hairston Family Life Enrichment Center, 1210 South Eugene
Thursday, April 9, 9 a.m.-noon

CHARLOTTE: Legal Services of Southern Piedmont Annex, 1431 Elizabeth Ave.
Thursday, April 9, 9 a.m.-11 a.m.
That’s important because next year the penalty goes up significantly for the remaining uninsured.

“Even someone who on April 15 finds out they have to pay a penalty, they still have time to take action all the way through to the end of April,” said Jennifer Simmons from Legal Aid of North Carolina.

Didn’t know?

Even after years of controversy and publicity about President Obama’s signature health care law, Simmons said there are people who don’t realize how the law would affect them or their taxes.

“This is a brand-new system,” said Simmons, who runs Legal Aid’s navigator project. “Some people really are learning about this for the first time.”

She said people are coming into Legal Aid, referred by both paid tax preparers and people from the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, especially because this year is a little more complicated.

“We’re happy to help anyone who walks in the door,” she said. “We’re here to help with those problem cases, people who might not be as lucrative to work with or who are more challenging.”

“They have to attest that they just found that they needed to be enrolled,” Schmidt said. “They do have to pay the $95 fine from last year, and the marketplace can confirm with the IRS website if they owe the fine.”

Check the box

On line 61 of the Form 1040 (line 11 if you use the 1040EZ form), there’s a box indicating whether a taxpayer was insured for the full year in 2014. If you can’t check the box, you’ll have to pay. For 2014, the penalty is $95 per person for each taxpayer or family member who was not insured for the entire year or 1 percent of yearly annual income, whichever amount is higher.

Screen shot of IRS Form 1040 EZ
Screen shot of IRS Form 1040 EZ

In 2015, that fine will climb to $325 per uninsured person or 2 percent of yearly annual income, whichever amount is higher. It gets even higher in 2016.

“Most people are not overly overwhelmed at the size of the penalty this year,” Simmons said. “But as they start to look at what the 2015 penalty looks like, that’s pretty big.”

That’s when people walk in the door and ask to get signed up.

“I think there are people who are ready to go ahead and get insured rather than play guessing games with the fee,” Simmons said.

Simmons noted that there are exemptions to the penalty; in particular, people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid ($5,767 for one person) and too little to qualify for insurance subsidies, which begin to kick in for people who earn more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level ($11,770 for one person).

Want to calculate your potential tax penalty? Use this calculator

She said her organization has more than 200 navigators around the state and there are also navigators at community health centers and other health care organizations, as well as insurance agents and brokers who can help complete the paperwork.

“My gut feeling is that there’s plenty of work to go around,” Simmons said.

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Groups exempt from penalty tax in 2015

1. Individuals with income below the income tax filing threshold.
2. Individuals for whom the cost of getting health insurance (net of ACA subsidies) would exceed 8% of household income in 2014
3. Individuals in states that did not accept the ACA’s Medicaid expansion who would have qualified for Medicaid under the expansion
4. Members of Indian tribes
5. Members of certain religious faiths
6. Members of a health care sharing ministry
7. Individuals not legally in the U.S. (undocumented aliens)
8. Incarcerated individuals

Data courtesy Brookings Institution/ Urban Institute[/box]

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