Five Ways to Avoid Paying the Obamacare Tax Penalty

txking / Shutterstock.com
txking / Shutterstock.com

As one of the estimated 48 million or so US inhabitants without health insurance, I reckoned it was worth our collective time and effort to discuss communal health-plan options in the wake of the Affordable Care Act.

Many of us simply get a job with an employer. For freelancers and self-employed sorts, you’re stuck milling about on the free market, having to put your own plans together in a glorious demonstration of capitalism in action. Or you could just go on the Obamacare website and sign up for it, perhaps opting for one of those reduced-price “catastrophic” plans if you’re a young’un such as myself.

But for the sheer sake of entertainment, let’s say you’re a person who don’t want no Obamacare—or any kinda healthcare insurance. Well, in order to avoid the “individually shared responsibility payment” component of the Affordable Care Act, your options are relatively sparse, but there are ways to beat the system.

Looking for a way to skip out on owing Señor Obama a couple of hundred bucks next April 15? Here are five probably legal ways to stick it to the man.

1. Be Really, Really Poor.

If your annual income is too low to warrant filing a tax return, you don’t have to pay Obama anything. Furthermore, if the cheapest healthcare plan available to you would necessitate more than 8% of your gross household income, you have no legal obligation to pay the individual mandate tax. On top of that, there are more than a dozen scenarios officially recognized by the feds that more than likely would allot you a hardship exemption from paying a fine.

Are you homeless, facing eviction or foreclosure, or have been forcibly removed from your dwelling sometime between July and December of 2014? That’s enough to possibly land you an Obamacare exemption. Furthermore, if a close family member died or you have been the victim of domestic violence, you could possibly land yourself an individual mandate exemption, too. Hell, just receiving a shutoff notice from a utility company might be enough to get you out of paying Shah Obama his tributes. My advice? Just to be on the safe side of things, don’t pay your water bill for a month, get official documentation, and hold onto it—come tax time 2015, that inability to pay a $19 utility fee MIGHT just be all you need to skip out on the individual mandate tax.

A brief list of other scenarios that could reasonably keep you from having to pay the Obamacare tax:

• Experiencing any natural or man-made disaster that caused substantial damage to your property. So if you and your neighbor want to opt out at the same time, try setting each other’s houses on fire just enough to gain hardship status.

• Six months prior to tax season, you file bankruptcy. Golly, you might as well file bankruptcy right now and not even have to worry about it!

• Over the last 24 months, you’ve had medical bills you just couldn’t pay. Get hospitalized now, don’t pay anything, and next year, when Obama wants you to pony up for being hospitalized, the fact that you didn’t pay anything for being hospitalized earlier is all you need to avoid paying Uncle Sam his keep!

• You’ve incurred increased expenses due to paying for a family member’s illnesses. So if you’re the praying sort, pray someone close to you comes down with something that’s nasty but not too expensive to treat.

Additionally, if you live in a state where Medicaid wasn’t expanded and you’re declared ineligible for Medicaid in said state, you may not have to pay the tax penalty. Hell, just having your insurance plan canceled and telling the gubberment that marketplace plans are too costly could give you a sound enough excuse. And since vagueness is all our friend, pay special heed to the following exemption provision: “You experienced another hardship in obtaining healthcare.”

I think we all know the path to take here: “Well, I was about to call about getting insurance, but as I was walking over to my phone, I tripped and bit my tongue kinda hard. Therefore, under federal decree, I owe you people nothing.”

2. Be Amish Or An Indian.

The healthcare.gov website clearly states that those in religious sects which strictly forbid health insurance are by virtue of the First Amendment probably not required to pay the Obamacare tax.

I know what you’re thinking: All I have to do is say that my religion somehow forbids health insurance, and I’m good, right? Failing that, you might even think about establishing your own religion, with an explicit tenet forbidding health insurance—or, if you’re really clever, a religion that forbids paying the individual mandate tax.

The catch here—and it’s a huge one—is that the ACA only recognizes members of religious sects that forbid health insurance AND were established prior to 1950. Strangely enough, there’s nothing within the Mennonite credo that explicitly forbids health insurance—indeed, Mennonite Church USA has its own damn health-insurance plan coordinated through Blue Cross Blue Shield, if you can believe it—and it’s never really explained why a religion such as Islam—which, depending on your definition of what “gambling” is, seems to EXPLICITLY forbid health insurance—isn’t considered good enough to get out of paying the mandate, but then again, it’s not like the people up on Capitol Hill actually read the laws they pass. And as a seeming dagger into the heart of the matter, a Republican-backed measure that would have allowed individuals an all-purpose religious exemption for the mandate pretty much died on the House floor—this, despite having the backing of at least one Batman.

Ultimately, a less bumpy road would be joining one of the 500 or so Indian Tribal Entities officially recognized by Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairsall of whom are officially exempt from the Obamacare tax mandate. You can also get exemption status by being eligible for the federal Indian Health Service program, but to do so, you pretty much already have to be in one of the Indian Tribal Entities above, so it’s sort of a moot point.

And yes, the above very much is an example of “Indian privilege,” a special entitlement on par with being able to sell shoddily made cigarettes and operate riverboat casinos without getting arrested. Then again, since the population is ridiculously more susceptible to diabetes, TB, suicide, injury-related death, and alcoholism than Caucasians, maybe not being eligible for more healthcare isn’t exactly a positive here.

3. Be Part Of A Healthcare Sharing Ministry.

If you’re not living in extreme poverty, Amish or Native American, probably your best bet at beating Obamacare is joining a healthcare sharing ministry. To be fair, a healthcare sharing ministry is more or less a form of genuine health insurance (well…sorta), which is usually more expensive than the state exchanges to begin with, but hey: We’re just trying to explore all of our technical options here.

A healthcare sharing ministry is, essentially, a faith-based co-op; you enroll in the program, pay a fixed amount each month, and when you go to the doctor for something, money is lifted out of the communal pot…in essence, making it a mini-form of Medicaid.

Of course, there are some catches here, beginning with the fact that Obamacare exemptions are only being handed out to such ministries formed before 2000, meaning that only three ministries are really being recognized for exemption purposes. Furthermore, the coverage provided by these organizations is anything but comprehensive, and their own mandates are a wee bit extreme. For example, the nation’s largest healthcare sharing ministry, Medi-Share, only allows individuals who live “biblical lifestyles” to participate in the program. That means if you drink, smoke weed, have premarital sex, are gay, and/or have a preexisting medical condition, you’re not eligible for participation. Of course, birth control and drug rehab costs aren’t part of the plan, and neither are colonoscopies or mammograms. And sometimes—just to keep you on the up and up, I suppose—they ask for minister references, too.

And then, there’s the organization’s own reminder that its services “are not guaranteed in any way [and] is exempt from regulation.” In 2013, roughly three quarters of Medi-Share bills were covered under the program, with the average healthcare ministry member receiving a paltry $25 in total annual healthcare coverage. Of course, members are allowed to appeal vetoed medical bills, which are then considered by Medi-Share’s own totally unbiased arbitration committee. So, yeah, it’s costlier than Obamacare, covers far less than Obamacare, and is not bound to the same legal statutes protecting consumers as Obamacare, but hey…it least it ain’t Obamacare, right?

4. Be an Undocumented Immigrant.

If nothing else, you have to give the ACA camp some credit, because they appear to have covered every conceivable base when it comes to the layover of healthcare and immigration status. Whether you’re a lawful temporary resident, a juvenile with Special Immigrant Status, an American Indian born in Canada, a Haitian refugee, or the spouse of someone who was the victim of human trafficking, there’s hardly a scenario for which the Obamacare camp hasn’t carefully mulled and laid out a game plan.

Of course, the big exemption here is for undocumented immigrants—i.e., those who illegally entered the US and can’t meet one of the two dozen or so caveats listed on the ACA website. The wording here is pretty solid then: If you’re an illegal immigrant, you simply don’t have to pay the individual mandate tax.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t receive healthcare services backed by Medicaid if you are an illegal immigrant, though. According to that bastion of hateful, right-wing rhetoric PBS, nearly $2 billion a year is spent on “emergency Medicaid services” for illegal immigrants, with presumably legal taxpayers footing the bill to reimburse hospitals. All in all, that’s not really a bad deal; just be a constantly pregnant or homeless undocumented immigrant, show up at an emergency room whenever you’re feeling under the weather, get your fundamentally free healthcare, and then you don’t even have to worry about the individual mandate fee! The threat of constant deportation, slave wages, and lifelong crushing poverty have to worth the medical freebies, no?

5. Be A Prisoner.

So let’s say you’ve exhausted all of the options above. You ain’t poor, you ain’t a member of some insurance-forbidding faith, the healthcare sharing ministries won’t accept you, and on top of it all, you’re a legal resident. So is there any way you can avoid paying the Obamacare tax at all?

Well, wouldn’t you know it, there is, and all things considered, it might be the sweetest deal for those seeking to skip out on paying the ACA mandate. All you have to do is commit a felony (or get charged and sentenced for a felony you didn’t commit), and presto! Like magic, the individual mandate—and in many ways, health insurance as a whole—is something you no longer have to worry about.

Indeed, most prisoner health plans are pretty much on par with most insurance packages targeting low-income workers. As a matter of fact, the plans provided for some US prisoners—with their $5 co-pays and practically guaranteed state benefits—are actually better than the insurance plans offered to workers at places such as Waffle House. In Pennsylvania, for example, all prisoners are scheduled free comprehensive physicals—we’re talking vision, rectal, and chronic disease risk assessments—every three years, while all in-state prisoners over the age of 60 are given free annual electrocardiograms. Of course, prisoner overcrowding in states such as California has made doctor visits a bit more of an aberration, and some private prisoner health plans in New York may have led to a few premature deaths, but in terms of sheer services-to-costs ratios, you’re unlikely to find a better, more affordable health insurance plan anywhere.

If you’re dead-set against giving Don Obama your moolah but you still want health coverage of some variety, it’s pretty much settled, then: You need to get incarcerated. Granted, the daily stabbings, sodomy, and omnipresent threat of contracting Hepatitis C is something of a downer, but who cares? You’ve got coverage, and you ain’t paying the feds nothin’—in other words, it’s the perfect way to shirk the individual mandate, ain’t it? TC mark

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