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If I’m eligible for other coverage but haven’t enrolled in it yet, can I qualify for premium tax credits in the Marketplace?

For certain types of coverage, if you are eligible but not enrolled, then you can still qualify for premium tax credits. These include:

  • Retiree health coverage offered by a former employer
  • COBRA coverage
  • Student health plan coverage
  • Medicare Part A coverage requiring payment of premiums

In addition, during Open Enrollment, if you are already enrolled in these types of coverage, you can apply for Marketplace coverage and subsidies and then drop your other coverage as of the date your new Marketplace coverage will take effect.

However, if you are eligible for job-based coverage (that is affordable and meets minimum value) or for Medicaid or CHIP, but you didn’t enroll, then you are not eligible for premium tax credits.

My family and I are offered health benefits through my job, but we can’t afford to enroll. My employer pays 100% of the premium for workers, but contributes nothing toward the cost of adding my spouse and kids. Can we try to find a better deal in the Marketplace?

You can always shop for coverage on the Marketplace, but your family members won’t be eligible for tax credits to help pay the premium. When people are eligible for employer-sponsored coverage, they can only qualify for Marketplace premium tax credits if the employer-sponsored coverage is considered unaffordable. Coverage is considered unaffordable only if your cost for coverage for yourself, alone, under the employer plan is more than 9.86% of your income in 2019. The cost of adding your spouse and children to family coverage is not taken into consideration.  So although you may feel your family coverage is unaffordable in practical terms, it is considered technically affordable.  Sometimes this situation is referred to as “the family glitch.”

I’m married. I work full-time for a large employer that offers me health benefits, but won’t cover spouses. Is that allowed? Can my spouse apply for coverage and subsidies in the Marketplace?

Large employers are required to offer health benefits to full-time workers and to their dependent children, or face a penalty. However, large employers are not required to offer health benefits to the spouses of full-time workers, so your employer would not have to pay a penalty for refusing to offer coverage to your spouse.  A large employer is one that employees at least 50 workers.

Because your spouse is not offered health benefits through your job, s/he may be eligible to apply for coverage and premium tax credits through the Marketplace.

I’m single and I’m offered health benefits at work. Can I try to find a better deal in the Marketplace?

Usually no. If you are offered health benefits at work and your required contribution costs no more than 9.86 percent of your 2019 household income, you will not be eligible for premium tax credits through the Marketplace. If you are required to pay more than 9.86% of your income to enroll in coverage for a single person under your job-based health plan, then you could qualify for premium tax credits in the Marketplace in 2019.

In addition, if your job based health plan doesn’t meet the standards for minimum value (for example, if it has an annual deductible higher than $7,900 per person, or if it doesn’t cover hospitalization), then you could also qualify for premium tax credits.

When you apply for a premium tax credit in the Marketplace, the application will include a form with questions about the affordability and minimum value of any job-based coverage you may be eligible for. Take that form to your employer and ask them to fill it out. The Marketplace will review the information and let you know whether you qualify for premium tax credit.

When can I apply for Marketplace premium tax credits when other coverage is available?

In general, if you have, or are eligible for, any of the following types of coverage, you would be ineligible for premium tax credits through the Marketplace:

  • Employer-sponsored coverage, unless the coverage is unaffordable (your required contribution to the premium for self-only coverage in 2018 costs more than 9.56% of household income) or does not meet minimum value (an actuarial value of less than 60%).  Special rules apply when the affordability of family coverage is a concern.
  • Government-sponsored coverage, including Medicare Part A coverage, Medicare Advantage plans, Medicaid coverage and the Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage, Veterans health coverage and TRICARE (coverage for members of the military)
  • Coverage for Peace Corps volunteers

However, if you have access to other types of coverage, you can still be eligible for premium tax credits, assuming you meet other requirements:

  • Individual (non-group) health insurance
  • Student health coverage
  • Coverage as a dependent under your parent’s group health plan if you are under age 26 and not claimed as a tax dependent by your parent
  • Retiree health coverage offered by a former employer
  • COBRA coverage

How do I apply for premium tax credits?

On the health insurance Marketplace web site, you will find an Application for Health Coverage and Help Paying Costs. Filling out the application online is the fastest, though you can also submit a paper application or call your Marketplace call center and apply over the phone. The Application will ask you basic information about yourself (and any family members who are applying for coverage with you) including your Social Security number and information about your citizenship or immigration status. It will also ask employment and income information, including what’s on your most recent income tax return. Once you’ve submitted the application, the Marketplace will let you know if you qualify for help paying for Qualified Health Plans it offers. It will also let you know if you (or any members of your family) may be eligible for coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

To complete the Application for Health Coverage and Help Paying Costs online, you will need to create a secure personal account with a login ID and password.

Should I claim a premium tax credit in advance or at the end of the year or some of both?

That’s up to you. You can have 1/12 of your annual premium tax credit paid directly to your health plan each month to reduce your monthly premium right away. Or, if you can afford to, you can pay the entire health plan premium yourself up front and collect the premium tax credit in a lump sum next year when your file your tax return. Or you can have some of the tax credit paid directly to your insurer in advance but save some to claim as a refund when you file your tax return at year end.

Keep in mind that when you apply for the premium tax credit during Open Enrollment, you won’t necessarily know for sure what your income for the coverage year will be, so you will apply based on your best estimate. Later, when you file your tax return, the IRS will compare your actual income to the amount of premium tax credit you claimed in advance. If you underestimated your income and claimed too much premium tax credit, you might have to pay back some or all of the difference. If you didn’t receive all of the premium tax credit you’re entitled to during the year, you can claim the difference when you file your tax return. If you’re uncertain about your income for the coming year, remember that you can modify the amount of premium tax credit during the year if your income changes. So, for example, if you are unemployed now, you can apply for a premium tax credit based on your current low income; then if you get a new job during the year, you can report this increase in income to the Marketplace and reduce the amount of premium tax credit you’re receiving at that time.

How do the premium tax credits work?

Premium tax credits reduce your premium for most Marketplace policies. The amount of the tax credit you may receive depends on your income and the cost of Marketplace health plans in your area. The Marketplace will determine the expected contribution you are required to pay toward the premium for a mid-range (Silver) benchmark plan. The expected contribution will increase on a sliding scale based on your 2019 income. If your income is near the poverty level, the expected contribution you would be required to pay toward the benchmark plan is 2.08 percent of your income in 2019. As your income gets closer to 400% of the poverty level, the expected contribution you would be required to pay toward the benchmark plan is 9.86% of your income.  The difference between the premium for the benchmark plan and your expected contribution equals the amount of your tax credit. (You do not have to pay more than the actual premium for the plan.) The Marketplace will tell you what that dollar amount is. You can use that amount to help pay the premium for any Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum plan offered in the Marketplace. The credit cannot be used to pay for a Catastrophic plan.

Premium tax credits may be claimed at the end of the year, or you can apply for an advanced premium tax credit based on your estimated income for the up-coming year. If you elect to receive an advanced credit, the government will pay 1/12 of the credit directly to your insurance company each month and the insurer will bill you for the rest of the premium.

It’s important to keep in mind that when you apply for the premium tax credit during Open Enrollment, you won’t necessarily know for sure what your income for the coverage year will be, so you will apply based on your best estimate. Later, when you file your tax return, the IRS will compare your actual income to the amount of premium tax credit you claimed in advance. If you underestimated your income and claimed too much premium tax credit, you might have to pay back some or all of the difference. If you didn’t receive all of the premium tax credit you’re entitled to during the year, you can claim the difference when you file your tax return. You should report any changes in your income during the year to the Marketplace, so your credit can be adjusted and you can avoid any significant repayments at the end of the year.

Can I use the premium tax credit to reduce the cost of any Marketplace health plan?

You can apply the premium tax credit to any Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum plan offered through the Marketplace. Premium tax credits cannot be applied to Catastrophic plans or to stand-alone dental plans.   If you are also eligible for cost sharing reductions, be aware that these can only be obtained through Silver plans offered in the Marketplace.

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