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Congress acts to stop the flood of forms mailed to millions

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Rep.  Jimmy Panetta, D-Paso Robles, in a 2021 file photo.  He is sponsoring the Paperwork Reduction Act, intended to stop unnecessary federal health insurance mailings to millions of people.

Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Paso Robles, in a 2021 file photo. He is sponsoring the Paperwork Reduction Act, intended to stop unnecessary federal health insurance mailings to millions of people.

Tired of getting some form in the mail from Washington about health insurance and wonder what it is?

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The “Paperwork Burden Reduction Act” is aimed at stopping unnecessary mailings, which now go to an estimated 154 million people.

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The measure, passed easily by the House, would make the health care form available only to those who request it. The Senate will now consider the legislation.

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Not only is the bill aimed at reducing the amount of paper that comes into people’s homes and businesses, but it’s the rare chance for a bitterly divided Congress to agree on something.

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“The one thing we can all agree on is that we need to reduce unnecessary burdens on taxpayers and small businesses,” said Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Paso Robles, one of the legislation’s major sponsors. He was motivated after hearing concerns from constituents in his district, which includes part of San Luis Obispo County.

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The issue involves forms the federal government has required employers to mail to employees detailing their health care coverage each year.

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Not only is the paper an anomaly in this digital age, when the Internal Revenue Service is encouraging people to file their tax returns electronically, lawmakers and the Biden administration believe it’s largely unnecessary.

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Form without function?

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The form was designed to show compliance with the Obamacare law that mandated that most people get health insurance coverage or pay a fine. But the mandate was eliminated in 2019.

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Still, most taxpayers have been receiving in the mail a form that not only details their health coverage, but also helps establish whether they’re eligible for a tax credit on the premiums they pay

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The credit is available to some people who do not use employer-provided coverage, finding it unaffordable. They can then buy other policies and then seek a tax credit on their return.

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The only serious questions about the legislation came from Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass. He said he was concerned that the bill did not address the confusion many consumers may find when they try to buy their own health insurance coverage.

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“These forms do not sufficiently or clearly describe whether an employer’s health insurance offer is affordable, and particularly important for low-income workers, whether they can access potentially more affordable subsidized marketplace coverage,” Neal said.

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If people don’t understand their options, he said, “they may incorrectly choose coverage that has higher out-of-pocket costs.”

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The bill, though, won House approval by voice vote, as it fills both political and practical needs.

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The political benefit is that lawmakers can boast they helped cut red tape.

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“Not only are small businesses struggling because of high prices, but Washington mandates are forcing small businesses to waste precious time processing paperwork instead of serving their workers and customers,” said Rep. Jason Smith, R-Missouri, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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If people need the forms, said Panetta, they can still request them “rather than mandating it and wasting time, wasting money and wasting paper.”

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The bill also allows Washington to take a small step into the 21st century way of doing things.

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“Now more than ever, Americans fill out their tax returns online,” said Smith. “There is no reason American workers should not be able to access this health insurance tax form online as well.”.