January 15, 2015

Religious Exemption from "Shared Responsibility Payment"

Question:

What qualifies as a religious exemption from the shared responsibility payment that individuals must pay if they do not have qualified health insurance? 

Answer:

Those who have stayed current with our blog have educated themselves on the fee ("shared responsibility payment") they will have to pay on their 2014 tax return if they do not have minimum essential health insurance. In our October 28, 2014 post, we gave an overview of the exemptions from the "shared responsibility payment." 

In our October 31, 2014 post, we discussed how health care sharing ministries offer the most common exemption that our readers may qualify for. A separate exemption, officially listed on HealthCare.gov, states that an individual does not have to pay the fee if the individual is "a member of a recognized religious sect with religious objections to insurance, including Social Security and Medicare." 

Deciphering who qualifies for this religious exemption may sound a little tricky. Practitioners of certain religions will be free from tax penalties. Under this exception, taxpayers must certify they are a member of a recognized religious sect. Qualified sects and required documentation are described in Internal Revenue Code Section 1402(g)(1).

For example, an exempt people must adhere to the established teachings of a sect that has been in continuous existence since 1950. Such people must be "conscientiously opposed" to accepting benefits from any private or public insurance that makes payments in the event of death, disability, old age or retirement, or that makes payments toward the cost of medical care. This includes Social Security. 

For instance, Amish people who are exempt from Social Security and Medicare taxes (and therefore do not accept any of their benefits) may be exempt from the health care mandate and tax penalties.

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