April 21 2014

Tax Preparers: the New ObamaCare Cheerleaders

Patrice J. Lee

Last week the White House was jubilant that they had hit 8 million enrollments after the President extended the -previously immoveable- deadline to sign up for ObamaCare by two weeks. We mentioned that the President shouldn’t be so quick to do a victory lap and declare that ObamaCare is a done deal. The impacts of ObamaCare are just beginning to emerge and they are far from positive for some Americans who now carry coverage through the ObamaCare exchanges.

We’re learning now that the final spike in signups may have had a push from an unexpected source: tax preparers.

Back in February it was announced that H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt Services would partner with online insurance brokers to steer customers toward ObamaCare insurance plans after preparing their returns. Jackson Hewitt refers clients eligible to buy Obamacare from a government-run exchange to Getinsured or tells them how to complete the process at home. Jackson Hewitt also helped enroll customers if their income qualified them for the government-run Medicaid and CHIP health coverage programs. In addition, makers of tax preparation software like Intuit’s TurboTax are calculating potential penalties for those who do not have insurance. In short, tax preparers became navigators.

The DC Caller reports:

Obamacare’s late surge in enrollment numbers may have been driven by tax-preparing services that offered government-sponsored health care plans to all customers seeking help doing their taxes.

H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt Tax Services partnered with online insurance brokers GoHealth and GetInsured to steer customers toward Obamacare insurance plans after preparing their tax returns, it was announced in February. The two major tax preparers are collectively responsible for preparing more than 20 million U.S. tax returns per year, according to estimates.

Neither company, however, is saying how many people they helped enroll. Neither is the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which did not immediately return The Daily Caller’s request for comment on this story.

President Barack Obama is the top all-time recipient of campaign contributions from H&R Block employees and their family members and the fourth all-time recipient of campaign contributions from Jackson Hewitt employees and their family members.

Public-private partnerships can be beneficial, but in this case, it seems smarmy. And if you think these companies did this because they are supportive of the President’s signature healthcare law, think again.

Both H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt have fee-sharing deals with their respective Web brokers for each client who enrolls in Obamacare as a result of a referral from the preparers. They put resources into advertising the Obamacare services with in-store signage, and in Jackson Hewitt's case a substantial part of their TV and radio ads.

It’s one thing for preparers to explain the new healthcare coverage question to clients as they walk them through their tax fillings. It’s another for those preparers to them become government agents in pushing a government policy as they profit from the signups. This is the very same model that the Administration used with ObamaCare navigators and the organizations that hired them.

Informing Americans of the penalties that result from not carrying coverage thanks to the ObamaCare coverage is beneficial.

I hope though that the tax agents also explained to their clients the difficulties they may now face with ObamaCare, including not being able to find doctors and healthcare institutions willing to take their coverage. I also hope they explained that there are private options available outside of the ObamaCare exchanges that may be a better deal financially for them or provide them with more options.

In promoting TurboTax Intuit said “We’re the Affordable Care Act experts. As with all tax laws, we know the new health care law inside and out.” I hope those experts don’t just paint a picture of life without ObamaCare, but a balance look at life with it.

 

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