IRS clarifies health law role to skeptical Republicans
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday assured congressional lawmakers that agents would play no role in enforcing the controversial requirement that Americans buy insurance under President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul.
"IRS revenue agents will not be involved. There will not be audits," IRS Deputy Commissioner Steven Miller told a subcommittee of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The law, passed in 2010 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, will charge individuals a fee, or tax, if they fail to buy insurance starting in 2014.
Opponents of the healthcare measure have focused on that requirement, with some Republicans saying they worry the IRS, the agency responsible for tax collection and tax law enforcement, will harass people who fail to buy insurance.
"In most cases, taxpayers will file their tax returns reporting their health insurance coverage, and-or making a payment, and there will be no need for further interactions with the IRS," Miller said.
Under the law, Americans who lack health insurance will have to pay an annual fee to the IRS of $95, or 1 percent of taxable household income, starting in 2014.
By 2016, that will rise to $695 per person, with a cap that equals the greater of $2,085 per family or 2.5 percent of household income.
About 1 percent of the population will be charged for not buying insurance, government watchdogs have estimated.
Republicans questioned Miller about how many new agents would be needed to apply the law, and whether the agency would be able to keep up its core mission of tax collection.
At the hearing, the latest in a series on the healthcare law, staff for Representative Charles Boustany, the Republican who heads the subcommittee, handed out a paper blasting the law as an "explosion of regulatory burdens."
The law contains a number of new tax provisions, from the so-called individual mandate to tax credits for small businesses and levies on the wealthy to help pay for coverage.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney this week said that although he wants to repeal the law, he would keep popular provisions such as some related to protecting people with pre-existing medical conditions.
(The story has been refiled to state Romney's full name in paragraph 12)
(Editing by Xavier Briand)