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Comprehending Tax Penalties for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)

When President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law in 2010, it brought about significant changes in the American healthcare system. The ACA, often referred to as Obamacare, expanded access to affordable health insurance, resulting in increased insurance coverage for more people.
However, along with these positive changes, Obamacare also introduced a requirement for mandatory health insurance coverage for all U.S. citizens. Those who did not comply with this mandate faced tax penalties. In this guide, we will explore whether tax penalties for lacking health insurance still exist in the United States, how much they may cost you, and how you can avoid them.

Understanding Obamacare Tax Penalties

The ACA made healthcare more accessible but also made it mandatory. The government's goal was to ensure that as many people as possible had access to essential healthcare services. If you failed to comply with the requirement for health insurance coverage, you would be subject to a tax penalty when filing your tax return.
You would generally be liable for Obamacare tax penalties if you did not have minimum essential coverage for yourself and your dependents for one or more months during the tax year and did not qualify for an exemption.
Enrollment in ACA-approved health insurance through your employer made you compliant with the individual mandate, exempting you from the tax penalty. Similarly, if your employer promised to provide coverage but failed to do so, they would be responsible for the tax penalty.

Federal Mandate Penalty Repeal

The federal mandate penalty was highly unpopular among those who had to pay it. In 2017, it was repealed through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law by President Donald Trump. This meant that, starting in 2019, individuals were no longer required to pay a penalty on their federal income tax return for not having health insurance coverage.
However, it's important to note that the repeal of the mandate only applied at the federal level. Individual states could choose to implement their own individual mandate penalties, and some have done so. Several other states are considering adopting similar mandates in the future.

State Individual Mandate Penalties

State health coverage mandates can vary significantly in terms of their requirements and associated penalties. The states that currently have individual mandates for health insurance include:


In California, it is a requirement for residents to possess health insurance that adheres to ACA (Affordable Care Act) standards, or they must obtain an exemption. Failing to comply with this requirement will result in a tax penalty. As of the current year, this penalty starts at a base amount of $850 for each adult within your household and $425 for each dependent child under the age of 18.
It's important to note that, depending on your income and various household factors, the penalty can potentially be higher. The California Franchise Tax Board will enforce this penalty when you file your annual tax return.


In Massachusetts, it is a requirement for residents to possess health insurance that complies with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or be eligible for an exemption from this mandate. If individuals fail to meet this requirement, they will face a tax penalty equal to 50% of the cost of the least expensive insurance plan available in the state.
The calculation of this tax penalty takes into account several factors, such as your income, age, and the number of people in your household whom you are responsible for. Consequently, this penalty may reach a maximum amount of $1,908 for individuals who do not have insurance coverage.

New Jersey

In New Jersey, it is a requirement for residents to possess health insurance coverage that complies with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Failure to do so, unless eligible for an exemption, will result in a tax penalty calculated based on their income and family size. The highest penalty amount is equivalent to the average yearly cost of the least expensive ACA insurance plan category, which is the Bronze tier. It's worth noting that this yearly premium can vary from one state to another, as each state's health insurance marketplace offers the same four metal tiers, but different insurers, plan options, and pricing structures may apply.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island residents are obligated to possess health insurance that adheres to ACA standards or secure an exemption from this mandate. Failure to do so will result in a penalty known as the Shared Responsibility Payment when they file their income tax returns. Individuals who are not obligated to file annual income tax returns are granted an automatic exemption and are not subject to an Obamacare tax penalty.

The District of Columbia (DC)

Residents of the District of Columbia are required to possess health insurance that complies with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or be eligible for an exemption. If they opt not to obtain insurance and do not qualify for an exemption, they will be subject to a tax penalty.
This penalty will equal the annual premiums for the most affordable health insurance plan accessible in D.C. Alternatively, the tax penalty owed might be equivalent to 2.5% of their overall household income exceeding the federal tax filing threshold.

Is There a Tax Penalty for Being Uninsured in 2023?

In 2023, while there is no federal mandate for health insurance, individual mandates exist in five states and the District of Columbia. Failure to obtain ACA-compliant health insurance in these areas may make you eligible for a tax penalty.

ACA-compliant health insurance includes:

CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program)

ACA-approved federal or state exchange plans

You can apply for an ACA-approved plan through the federal marketplace,, or through private insurance organizations. There are options available to ensure you can access the essential health insurance coverage you need, even with a low or no income. Obamacare subsidies are available to assist low-income households.

What Makes You Liable for an Obamacare Tax Penalty?

Obamacare tax penalties are incurred if you live in a state with an individual mandate and do not have ACA-compliant health insurance or an exemption. It's important to note that not all insurance plans on the market today are ACA-compliant. Some plans, like short-term insurance plans, do not meet ACA requirements, and having such plans could still lead to a penalty.

Exemptions From the Obamacare Tax Penalty

Exemptions were a vital part of the Affordable Care Act, providing flexibility for those who couldn't afford or obtain health insurance. Exemptions were granted based on specific criteria, such as income below the federal poverty level or membership in a religious group that refused insurance.
Most exemptions could be applied for through the Health Insurance Marketplace, either during coverage enrollment or the annual open enrollment period. Some exemptions could be claimed when filing federal income tax returns, and in some cases, individuals could apply for exemptions directly to the IRS.

What Makes You Eligible for an Exemption?

You may be exempt from the penalty if you don't earn enough to file taxes or if the cheapest ACA health insurance coverage in your state costs more than 8.3% of your household net income. Additionally, you may qualify for exemptions due to hardships, such as homelessness, high debts, unemployment, eviction, foreclosure, or the impact of a natural disaster.
You will also be exempt if you are not lawfully present in the United States, incarcerated in a jail or prison, or eligible to receive care from the federal Indian Health Service. Membership in a religious group objecting to insurance or affiliation with federally recognized Native American tribes can also result in an exemption.

How Is the Penalty Calculated?

Federal tax penalties for non-compliance with the ACA were calculated based on two methods, with individuals being liable for the higher of the two amounts:
Percentage of Income : A percentage of household income above a certain threshold, typically around 2.5% of income exceeding the tax filing threshold.
Flat Dollar Amount : A flat dollar amount per uninsured person in the household, with a cap on the total penalty.
State tax penalties vary by state, as they are often based on the costs individuals would have incurred if they had obtained insurance. Each state may have slightly different approaches to calculating these penalties, resulting in variations in penalty amounts.

Penalty Payment Options

The penalty for non-compliance with Obamacare is a tax penalty, and it is applied when you file your taxes. The exact procedure can differ depending on your specific tax situation and the state in which you reside.
It's essential to distinguish between complete failure to obtain ACA-compliant insurance and a short coverage gap. Justifiable reasons for a short gap in coverage can exempt you from the penalty. A short gap is typically three months or less. Always check if you are exempt from penalties based on your specific circumstances.

Impact of the Penalty on Tax Returns

In states with an individual mandate, the penalty for not having health insurance is either deducted from your tax refund or added to your tax bill when you pay your taxes. If you have an exemption or are not required to file taxes due to low income, the tax penalty does not apply.


Despite the removal of the federal requirement for health insurance, several states have chosen to retain an individual mandate. While there are legitimate tax penalties for not complying with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), there's a straightforward method to avoid them. You can sidestep these penalties by enrolling in a health insurance policy that complies with ACA regulations. In doing so, you not only safeguard yourself and your family from the financial strain of uninsured medical expenses but also ensure your compliance with the law.