The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare or ACA, requires most Americans to have health insurance that meets a government standard known as "minimum essential coverage," or MEC. Whether your insurance qualifies as MEC depends not on the plan itself, but on how you obtained your coverage.
The article below is accurate for your 2017 taxes, the one that you file this year by the April 2018 deadline, including a few retroactive changes due to the passing of tax reform. Some tax information below will change next year for your 2018 taxes, but won’t impact you this year. Learn more about tax reform here.
Under Obamacare, any health insurance plan offered to you by an employer qualifies as minimum essential coverage (MEC). So if you and your family get health insurance through a job, you should have MEC which includes:
- Coverage for current employees
- Coverage for retirees
- COBRA continuation coverage, which allows former employees to hold onto their health insurance for a certain period of time after leaving an employer
College students who get health insurance from their school while they're enrolled are also considered to have MEC.
By definition, government health insurance programs provide minimum essential coverage (MEC). These programs include:
- Medicare, which provides benefits to people over 65 and the disabled
- Medicaid, which is for low-income people
- Tricare, which covers military service members and their families
- The Children's Health Insurance Program, or "CHIP," a federal-state effort to cover children and pregnant women in lower-income families
- Veterans' health care benefits
- Peace Corps volunteers' health insurance
An "individual" health insurance plan is one you buy directly from an insurance company. That makes it different from the "group" plans typically offered by employers.
The following types of individual health insurance plans also are automatically considered to offer minimum essential coverage (MEC):
- Any individual health insurance plan you had before Obamacare went into effect and you were allowed to keep it
- Any plan you bought through a state or federal online insurance marketplace set up under Obamacare
Other individual health insurance plans may also qualify. If in doubt, your insurance company should be able to tell you whether you have MEC.
What doesn't qualify
Certain health benefits don't count as MEC, even though they may seem like traditional health insurance in some ways. Examples of non-MEC benefits include:
- Plans that provide only discounts on health care services
- Plans that cover only dental care or vision
- Care under workers' compensation plans
- Plans that provide care only for a specific condition, rather than general medical coverage
Getting an Exemption
If you don't have minimum essential coverage (MEC), you must pay a penalty when you file your tax return. But, certain individuals and families can qualify for an exemption, which avoids the fee. If you qualify for an exemption, you can have non-MEC coverage—or no coverage at all. Among the situations that could get you an exemption:
- Your income is so low that you aren't required to file a tax return
- You can't find insurance that's cheaper than 8% of your income
- You're a member of a religious group that objects to all forms of insurance
- You are experiencing a financial hardship that makes it too expensive to get insurance
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