As you probably know, this Sunday (February 2, 2014) is Groundhogs Day. Given all of the excitement at Jackson Hewitt about tax season and the ACA, it’s been hard to sleep – which has led to some pretty profound late-night online research sessions and mental musings. So, with that background, we wanted to help clarify a question that has doubtlessly been keeping you up at night as well.
What in blazes do Groundhog Day and the ACA have in common? For starters, our whistle-pig pal, Punxsutawney Phil, resides in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. And there’s one word to describe Jeff County: typical! Well, typical in that the county’s uninsured rate in 2011 (16.6%) for persons under age 65 and under 400% FPL was almost exactly the same as for Keystone State overall.*
Interesting – but what does it mean? Easy: Roughly one in six non-elderly folks in Punxsutawney and surrounding areas is uninsured and below the income limit for the ACA programs. Of these individuals, TWO-THIRDS (!) are eligible for the new premium assistance tax credits under the ACA! And even more would be eligible to enroll in an ACA program if Pennsylvania ultimately expands Medicaid for adults.
That’s it? Not at all: We kept digging and found a deeper connection still! Turns out that January 31, 2014, is the deadline for employers to distribute W-2 forms to employees and former employees—which means that the “peak” in tax filing for most uninsured Americans will be right around Groundhog Day. Why? Easy: Between 75-80% of taxpayers are typically due a refund from the IRS – and the fraction of Americans getting refunds is even higher among taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes between $15,000 and $50,000, which is a part of the population that is relatively more likely to be uninsured. Since the federal refunds alone average about $3,000, these families are anxious so that they can access this money. NOW we understand why Groundhog Day is such a cultural event!
So, how does Punxsutawney Phil get insured? Fortunately for him, groundhogs as a rule spend most of their time “covered.” But his uninsured neighbors have just over eight weeks left of open enrollment – and a tax refund check coming to use for just this purpose. The key part is for uninsured Americans to avoid burrowing under -- and get help with tunneling toward coverage before open enrollment ends on March 31st. And Jackson Hewitt is willing to be the “gopher” to get the government paperwork done!
So can we trust in Groundhog Day? Hard to say, and some have quibbled at the accuracy of Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions about the number of weeks of winter remaining.** For our part, we’ll defer to his shadow search this Sunday. Tune in: official information and live updates will be available at http://www.groundhog.org/.
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* U.S. Census Bureau, Small Area Health Insurance Estimates (SAHIE) 2011, available at http://www.census.gov/did/www/sahie/data/index.html, accessed November 11, 2013.
** We note without comment that Canadians argue that their woodchucks offer more accurate prognostications. Compare Canadian claims at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/groundhog-day/ with U.S. estimates at http://www.stormfax.com/ghogday.htm, accessed January 16, 2014. We take no position on the veracity of such claims – or their correlation with the Canadian health system. See generally, Sullivan, Sean, “How the political battle over Obamacare is like ‘Groundhog Day’,” Washington Post, January 3, 2014, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/01/03/how-the-political-battle-over-obamacare-is-like-groundhog-day/, accessed January 16, 2014.
*** Internal Revenue Service, “2012 End-of-year Filing Season Statistics,” available online at http://www.irs.gov/uac/2012-Filing-Season-Statistics, accessed January 2, 2014; Internal Revenue Service, Statistics of Income Division, July 2013, Table 3.3, available online at http://www.irs.gov/uac/SOI-Tax-Stats-Individual-Income-Tax-Returns-Publication-1304-%28Complete-Report%29#_tbla, accessed November 13, 2013.