In a new setback for the health care law and the people it's supposed to help, the government said Friday it made a tax-reporting error that's fouling up the filings of nearly a million Americans.
After a successful sign-up season, the latest goof could signal new problems with the complex links between President Barack Obama's health care overhaul and the nation's income tax system.
Officials said the government sent the wrong tax information to about 800,000 HealthCare.gov customers, and they're asking those affected to delay filing their 2014 returns. The issue involves a new government form called a 1095-A, which is like a W-2 form for health care for people who got subsidized private coverage under Obama's law.
People can find out whether they're affected by logging in to their accounts at HealthCare.gov, where they should find a message indicating whether they were affected or not. They also can check by phoning the federal customer service center at 800-318-2596.
Separately, California announced earlier that it had sent out inaccurate tax forms affecting about 100,000 households. The state is not part of the federal market but runs its own insurance exchange.
HealthCare.gov said in a blog post that the federal mistake happened when information on this year's premiums was substituted for what should been 2014 numbers. The website had a technology meltdown when it was launched back in 2013, but seemed to have overcome its problems this enrollment season.
"It gives you some sense of how hungry people were out there for affordable, accessible health insurance," Obama said of the current enrollment year.
"The Affordable Care Act is working. It's working a little better than we anticipated. It's certainly, I think, working a lot better than what many of the critics had talked about early on," Obama said.
"It's a small percentage of overall tax filers," said spokesman Josh Earnest. "You're talking about less than 1 percent of people who file taxes."
At the Health and Human Services department, Andy Slavitt, who oversees health insurance programs, said consumers affected by the problem will be notified starting immediately via phone calls and emails. They represent about 1 of every 5 HealthCare.gov customers who got subsidies in 2014.
An estimated 50,000 people who have already filed their taxes will receive special instructions from the Treasury Department, he said. All corrected forms should be available by early March.
Slavitt said the error involved a "benchmark" premium that is used to help determine the subsidies that individuals receive. It's unclear whether the impact would favor the government or individual policyholders. Slavitt said it's a mix.
Enrollees who already filed will not find much help at HealthCare.gov for now, which only reads: "Additional information will be provided shortly."
Overall, nearly one million exchange enrollees could see delays in getting their income tax refunds, or find that their size of the refund has changed due to corrections in the tax form. Many of these people depend on this tax refund, and unanticipated problems could have significant adverse consequences.
Filing taxes is already a cumbersome and aggravating process. Obamacare has made it even more arduous as people have to attest to having health insurance coverage and how much they receive in exchange subsidies. Even worse, it nearly one in five HealthCare.gov customers was sent the wrong forms, and these people will have to delay filing their taxes, or even resubmit them.