The US Dept of Health and Human Services (HHS) wants your comments on proposed “shared responsibility payments” affecting all Americans that fail to maintain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).

Under the ACA, beginning January 1, 2014 all Americans will be categorized as “exempt” or “non-exempt” from the requirement to pay for health insurance.

If you are “non-exempt” you have a choice: maintain “minimal essential coverage” — keep health insurance for yourself at all times — or pay a “shared responsibility payment” penalty to the IRS with your annual federal income tax return. The vast majority of all Americans will be considered “non-exempt.”  Your comments may shape how HHS defines “minimal essential coverage.”

There is no penalty if you are “exempt.”

HHS strongly encourages comments on the subject of exemptions.  Some types of exemptions identified are religious conscience, membership in an Indian tribe or a health-care sharing ministry, incarceration, and “hardship.”  Hardship could include homelessness, receiving a utility shut-off notice, facing a natural disaster or other unexpected natural or human event causing significant personal or property damage.

Exemptions range from one month to one year and require everyone to re-apply, possibly multiple times — every year.

The new “Affordable Insurance Exchanges” (State Exchanges are being established for the sale and purchase of health insurance) determine how to qualify for an exemption based on a verified application and will issue “certificates of exemption.”

The 26,000-word notice does not use “plain language” and is difficult to decipher.

The Comment Period closes March 18, 2013 at 11:59 EST.

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