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Health Reform Penalties in California


UPDATE: Find out your options if you have Missed the Open Enrollment here


So yesterday, we wrote about the carrot for purchasing California health insurance through the Exchanges.


Now, let's talk about the stick...the Penalty for not purchasing health insurance.


Part of health reform mandates the purchase of health insurance for most people and it creates both subsidies to help purchase it for those individuals up to 400% of the federal poverty level and penalties for those individuals who choose not to purchase health insurance across all income levels.


You can see the levels here:

federal poverty levels for Covered Ca tax credit


We now have these penalty levels for Californians.


You can always run your quote here:


how to quote Covered California plans

Slow start but then ramping up




The real push of California health reform began Jan 1st 2014 when the Exchange officially opened (actually accepting applications October 1st, 2013).


It makes sense that the penalties will also begin in 2014.


Here's the broad strokes of how the penalty will proceed.


  • 2014 $95/annual penalty or 1% of taxable income, whichever is greater
  • 2015 $325/annual penalty or 2% of taxable income, whichever is greater
  • 2016 $695/annual penalty or 2.5% of taxable income, whichever is greater
  • 2017 and out Amounts adjusted (up) in the out years based on cost of living index.


How the Penalty is Applied


The penalty occurs at tax filing time.


Essentially, a person will need to show ACA compliant coverage during the prior year or pay the penalty as part of their tax filing.


The flat dollar penalty is per person in a family up to 3 family members.


There is no per person cap on the percentage based penalty and it applies to the family income however it is constituted up to the cost of a Bronze level plan in the Exchange.

Who is not subject to the mandate?


Different situations can make a person exempt from the California individual health insurance mandate.


  • Based on religious beliefs
  • non legally residing in the United States
  • Incarcerated
  • Does not make the legal minimum to file tax returns
  • Unable to afford eligible coverage based on guidelines
  • Receives hardship qualification for Secretary
  • Does not reside in the U.S. or resides in a possession of the U.S.


You can access the online application here:


How to apply for California obamacare

So what do we make of the penalty levels?


Once criticism of the Health Reform bill's ability to remain solvent is the so-called "weak mandate".


This refers to the small penalty ($95 in first year) applied versus the potential premium a person would pay on the market.


For example, let's say you have a 45 year old make who makes $45K annually (no or little subsidy).


Let's say that person is currently uninsured since our stated goal is to get everyone on board.


That person can either pay the 1% penalty ($450 for the year) or pay roughly $300/monthly ($3600 annually).


Given the choice of $3600 in premium or $450 in penalty, he may go uninsured. There in lies the issue.


Granted, for people that make less, they will get subsidies but the penalty also goes down accordingly since it's based on income.


We'll have to see how this plays out but we want to avoid Adverse Selection resulting from a weaker mandate.


The Open Enrollment window for California health reform plans may also help to buttress this mandate although money usually dictates decisions on this front


You can run your California Health Quote to avoid penalty here to view rates and plans side by side from the major carriers...Free.


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