March 19, 2014 — Seventy-five House Democrats on Monday urged the Department of Treasury to issue guidance that would allow married survivors of domestic abuse to still qualify for federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) if they do not file joint tax returns, CQ Roll Call reports.
Under current law, married couples must file joint tax returns to be eligible for subsidies to offset the cost of coverage through the law's insurance marketplaces (Attias, CQ Roll Call, 3/17).
However, filing joint taxes could put women in danger if they have to reconnect with an abusive spouse. Advocates say that the Obama administration needs to do more to help survivors and abandoned spouses obtain the subsidies, particularly because they often have depreciated incomes and lack insurance because of their separation from their spouse.
The Internal Revenue Service has acknowledged the issue and asked for public comment, but it has not issued any regulations (Women's Health Care Policy Report, 3/17).
In a letter, the Democrats -- led by Reps. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) and Lloyd Doggett (Texas) -- asked Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to issue guidance on the matter "now," along with proposed regulations "to prevent ongoing confusion in future open enrollment periods."
The lawmakers also noted that the Treasury and IRS in a May 2012 rule indicated that they would provide such guidance for "circumstances in which domestic abuse, abandonment or similar circumstances create obstacles to the ability of taxpayers to file joint returns." However, domestic abuse survivors and those helping them enroll in coverage are still waiting for that guidance.
In a press release, Slaughter added, "Now that we've ended that insidious practice [of letting insurers categorize domestic violence as a pre-existing condition], we have to make sure that these survivors are able to access the health care they need and end the cycle of abuse without these unnecessary barriers" (CQ Roll Call, 3/17).