Reasons to Get Excited for the Upcoming Tax Season!

By Zachary Baron

In gearing up for the second open enrollment period (OEP2), which is just around the corner (less than 140 days away!), Enroll America continues to build upon the lessons from the first open enrollment period (OEP1) to keep advancing an “all-of-the-above” approach to connect consumers to coverage. One such approach is to leverage the tax filing season. When individuals are filing their taxes, there is an opportunity to help people #GetCovered.

This isn’t just a hunch — there’s research and data to back this up! At the State of Enrollment national conference, Stan Dorn of the Urban Institute highlighted some of the key facts from the 2014 report he co-authored on reaching uninsured tax filers:

  • More than 74 percent of uninsured consumers that qualify for financial help file federal income taxes. This creates a great opportunity to reach the uninsured.
    • Over 90 percent of uninsured consumers under age 35 that qualify for financial help to pay for private coverage file federal income taxes. And the information needed to file taxes can make the process of applying for coverage easier.
  • Many taxpayers that qualify for financial help receive hefty refunds that can go to purchasing new coverage. 
    • 85 percent of taxpayers with incomes between $20,000 and $50,000 claimed refunds in 2012 averaging $2,771 per tax return.
  • Nearly 65 percent of low-income taxpayers (those claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit) filed tax returns from 2009-2011 with the help of tax preparers who can help individuals get connected to coverage.

OEP2 is set to run between November 15, 2014 and February 15, 2015. And, as we all know (and some dread!), April 15 is the deadline for individuals to file their federal income taxes, creating a brief period of overlap between OEP2 and the tax filing season. However, instead of being afraid of filing taxes, enrollment stakeholders should be excited to seize this opportunity to partner with organizations that focus on tax filing and raise awareness of coverage options when consumers are receiving their tax refunds.

Through our Get Covered America (GCA) grassroots campaign, we saw the benefits firsthand of using the tax filing moment to reach uninsured consumers. Foundation Communities, a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) organization (see page 4 of the PDF) based in Austin, Texas, became a Certified Application Counselor (CAC) organization. Building on their tax expertise and stable role in the community, they assisted more than 10,000 households with their enrollment! GCA also worked with other non-assister VITA organizations, such as the Campaign for Working Families (CWF) (see page 5 of the PDF) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. CWF helped to identify uninsured clients by incorporating a question about health coverage into their intake process, and GCA matched in-person assisters at some of CWF’s site to work with people waiting for a tax appointment.

The private tax preparation industry can also play a central role along with other enrollment stakeholders to help people #GetCovered, as far more low-income individuals receiving help to file their tax returns rely on paid preparers as opposed to volunteer programs. Private tax preparation companies such as Intuit, Jackson Hewitt, and H&R Block have adopted varying approaches to help consumers learn about their coverage options and enroll through the tax filing setting. As David Williams from Intuit explained at the State of Enrollment national conference, Intuit will remain at “the intersection of health care and taxes” to best help consumers.

Some experts believe that another way to maximize enrollment for OEP2 and beyond is to move the sign-up period back to more closely coincide with when most people file their taxes, and to avoid the stresses associated with the end of the year holiday season. Regardless of your role, all enrollment stakeholders should start preparing now for ways to reach consumers and leverage the tax filing moment near the end of OEP2.

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