Confusing reporting rules will bite the IRS

If you are currently receiving a subsidy from the government for your health insurance, you better be aware that any "life changes" that occur during the year - marriage, divorce, increase in income - has to be reported to the IRS. Otherwise, you're liable to get a nasty surprise come tax time.


It's a new responsibility for this group - many of whom are just struggling to sign up.

The IRS, for its part, must make sure consumers don't get blindsided - or it will face a bunch of angry taxpayers who didn't realize they would owe Uncle Sam money back, tax experts said.

"If I were the IRS, I would be very concerned that I'm going to be viewed as the villain when people have to pay back money the government gave them for health insurance," said Chris Condeluci, who was Senate Finance Committee GOP tax counsel during drafting of the Affordable Care Act.

There is time. Potential "repayments" to the government will not come due until 2015, when recipients file next year's taxes. But the new rule for reporting these life changes begins this January.

(WATCH: Obamacare timeline)

But there might be good news: If a recipient's income were to fall and it wasn't reported, the recipient could get a nice, fat check because he or she would be owed a larger Obamacare tax credit than was received.

Right now, the IRS does explain the issue on its website, but consumers would have to be looking for the information to find it.

All experts interviewed on the topic worried that most tax credit recipients do not have a clue about the new reporting responsibilities, noting that even policymakers are still trying to grasp how the process works.

In California alone, 38 percent of tax credit recipients are projected to have to pay back more than $850 - if no income changes are reported during the year, according to a September Health Affairs study.

Most repayments would likely mean smaller tax refunds, rather than a new tax bill. That's because those most likely to use the credits receive around $3,000 in tax refunds each year, said Ken Jacobs, a University of California Berkeley professor and co-author of that study.

Still, a smaller refund can bring hardship for this population, whose members often rely on the annual tax refund check to help pay basic bills.

Speaking of angry taxpayers, there are still a third of Americans who are unaware of the fact that they must buy health insurance or face a penalty from the IRS. Imagine the nasty surprise these taxpayers are going to receieve when they open their refund checks and find that the tax has been taken off the top.

How much more burdensome can Obamacare get? The paperwork burden for businesses can't be calculated yet because the employer mandate won't take effect until next year. At that point, businesses must certify that their employees are covered by an Obamacare compliant health insurance plan - just one additional chore facing companies beause of the ACA.