Who Gets an Exemption From Obamacare?


Credit: screencap healthcare.gov

In anticipation of Obamacare's state-level exchanges going live, questions have been asked about individuals' privacy, incorrect subsidies, and technological difficulties. One of the biggest questions, however, is "How do I get an exemption from the fee for not having health coverage?"

Although the Weekly Standard screencapped the image (see above), the popular inquiry does not come from a poll conducted by them or any other group that has voiced opposition to the healthcare overhaul. Rather, it comes directly from Healthcare.gov, a site operated by the Department of Health and Human Services that is supposed to clarify the law and guide people to their state's exchange.

The fee will be $95 or 1 percent of an individual's yearly income (whichever is higher) in 2014, but will jump to $695 or 2.5 percent of an individual's yearly income in 2016. Finding a way out of both the law and the penalty for not participating is not just popular on the government's site, though. Google Trends show that inquiries related to Obamacare exemptions have skyrocketed in the last month. Reason's Peter Suderman notes several recent polls that indicate the unpopularity of the healthcare law. Although Mark Blumenthel of the Huffington Post argues that people are not against Obamacare, they are simply full of doubt and uncertainty. 

So who has exemptions and who does not? Healthcare.gov provides a list of general guidelines specifically about the dodging the fee, but here is shortlist of 5 high profile cases of various groups with different situations:

  1. Restaurants in Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) district have exemptions. As Americans for Prosperity notes, "When ObamaCare was in its infancy, the Obama administration began handing out waivers to employers for various other provisions of the law. In early 2011, the administration issued waiver after waiver to politically connected businesses [such as] restaurants and hip nightclubs in former-Speaker Nancy Pelosi's district."
  2. The Little Sisters of the Poor, and hundreds of other religious ministries who were not as lucky as the Samaritan Ministry, do not have an exemption. They are suing the Department of Health and Human Services, contending that they should have a waiver for religious reasons, but the law defines the exemptions too narrowly.
  3. Big Labor does not have an exemption. The leader of the Teamsters and other major labor unions sent a letter to the White House requesting an exemption from the law. As Ezra Klein explains, "they argue that their plans serve a different purpose, and a different group, than traditional employer-based plans, and they deserve a waiver." However, The Obama Administration recently denied their claim.
  4. Congressmen and staffers, despite widely reported misconceptions, do not have an exemption. As Peter Suderman has clarified, what they have "isn't exactly an exemption. It's a form of special treatment."
  5. Samaritan Health-Care Ministry has an exemption. They "led a successful fight to get language inserted into the law that specifically exempts health care sharing ministries from the individual mandate, which would have required that members buy a traditional health insurance policy or pay significant penalties." Read Jim Epstein's coverage of the Samaritan Health-Care Ministry's situation and watch the video below.