However, Straw says that approach might run into trouble. “A hardship has to mean something, you can’t say that everyone has a hardship,” she said. “Complying with the law is not considered a hardship.”
Some experts say changing the rules now could create even more confusion, since some people have already filed their returns. Those taxpayers might have to file amended returns, an extra expense if they use a tax preparer.
“Since the 2016 tax season is already underway, I would think it unlikely that the Treasury Department would say, ‘Don’t bother paying the penalty,’” said Mark Luscombe, a principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax Accounting, an information services company.
Q. I’m currently on a COBRA plan that ends on Dec. 31, 2017. Then I was going to choose a plan on the exchange for 2018. If the exchange exists in 2018, do you think there would be a special enrollment period allowed for new sign-ups like me when my current coverage ends?
Under the health law, people who have certain life changes, including losing other types of health insurance such as COBRA, are entitled to a special enrollment period to enroll in coverage on the exchange. But in your case, you wouldn’t actually need a special enrollment period because your COBRA will end during the regular annual open enrollment period that is scheduled to run from Nov. 1, 2017, to Jan. 31, 2018. (This coverage comes from a federal law that generally allows people who lose or leave their jobs to stay on the company insurance plan for up to 18 months if they pay the full price of coverage.)
Republican proposals to replace the health law typically include provisions that guarantee people will be able to buy coverage when COBRA or other coverage ends, said Timothy Jost, an emeritus professor at Washington and Lee University Law School who has examined and written about the proposals.
Insurers are skittish, however, about some of the Republican ideas, such as eliminating the individual mandate and the continuing uncertainty about what the individual market will look like next year. At this point it’s unclear what type of coverage will be available.