Untapped source to reach uninsured: Tax preparers

Tax preparers may be a key source of assistance for the millions of uninsured consumers--including young adults--who remain uneducated about how the Affordable Care Act can help them obtain health coverage.

More than 74 percent of uninsured consumers who qualify for insurance affordability programs under the ACA file federal income tax returns. Of that group, more than 90 percent are under 35 years old and eligible for subsidies, according to a new brief from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Most of these consumers use in-person help from tax preparers, providing an opportunity for education and outreach about the ACA, its health insurance exchanges and federal subsidies.

As a result, insurers, as well as federal and state officials, "should seriously explore engaging for-profit and nonprofit tax preparers as partners in reaching the eligible uninsured during the final two months of open enrollment," the RWJF brief concludes. "Enrollment strategies that effectively reach federal income tax filers could thus cover many eligible uninsured while moving towards a balanced risk pool that promotes long-term stability within the individual market."

For example, tax preparers at Jackson Hewitt offices ask all clients if they have health coverage and then refer uninsured people to in-house specialists who check for Medicaid or subsidy eligibility, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

The RWJF brief pointed out that the low turnout of exchange enrollees isn't surprising, given that the Children's Health Insurance Program and even Medicaid struggled with low enrollment during the first years of implementation.

"Slow enrollment would be expected, even if all marketplace websites had functioned impeccably, which has not been the case," the brief states.

To learn more:
- here's the RWJF brief (.pdf)