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Watch out for those health insurance subsidies

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An alert reader sent me this link to a New York Times story saying thousands of people are being questioned on their eligibility for health insurance subsidies: story isn't really surprising. In fact, it had been predicted by this same reader.Before he saw the story, he mentioned that I may want to be ready for what he thinks will be a big story come April 15, 2015. His prediction was that many people are going to be shocked to learn they owe penalties or additional payments when they send in their taxes. People being people, he said, some are probably underestimating their income in order to get subsidies when they signed up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Others may not be reporting it when their income goes up. So as soon as they send in their tax information that documents a higher income, they'll be expected to pay back the subsidies that they shouldn't have gotten.A few days after our conversation, the New York Times reported precisely that. But instead of waiting for April 15, the government is taking a proactive approach.What amazed me is that, according to the Times story, two million people of the eight million who signed up for private health plans through insurance exchanges — a full one-quarter — had personal information that differed from data in government records. All of that was not income related, but still, what a huge paperwork mess! Two million people with data that needs to be verified.I guess my own personal experience should have clued me in. I was doing a story last fall on people signing up for health insurance, and the helpful "assister" that I was interviewing asked me if I wanted to see my options. With the insurance through my company going up drastically, of course I was interested. She ended up signing up my son for insurance through the state. I got a new card for him and everything.But I wasn't comfortable with her advice that he could get insurance from them even if he was currently covered through me. All my other calls to the state indicated my husband and son were not eligible for subsidies if I had an option to insure them through my plan. So, I cancelled it.If I hadn't been a reporter who had done several stories on the Affordable Care Act, and who recognizes that the new law is massive and confusing, even people who were trained to help others sign up, I probably would have kept that low-cost insurance for him. And now, I would probably owe a bundle of money I probably wouldn't have. I certainly hope people who are notified report accurate information when they are contacted. Otherwise, they may be in for a big surprise of the unpleasant kind come tax time.

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