State hikes penalties for higher income uninsured

Uninsured residents of Massachusetts who are deemed able to afford health insurance but fail to obtain coverage will face higher penalties this year under a plan quietly approved by the Patrick administration last week.

A Department of Revenue official on December 30 confirmed that the penalties, imposed under a 2006 state law that makes health insurance mandatory for most Massachusetts residents, will rise for individuals whose earnings total more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, according to the State House News Service.

About 55,000 Massachusetts taxpayers were assessed penalties for being uninsured in 2008, the last year for which numbers are available. At last count, those penalized had paid $13 million to the state, which has seen its Medicaid rolls soar since the 2006 law was approved and in the face of high unemployment.

For individuals between the ages of 18 and 26 with incomes above $32,496, the penalty for not having insurance in 2011 will rise to $72 per month from $66 per month, for a total annual penalty of $864, up from $792 this year.

For individuals 27 or older with incomes above $32,496, the monthly penalty will increase next year to $101, or $1,212 annually, from $93 per month or $1,116 annually.

For two-parent families in which both adults are uninsured, the penalties are doubled.

The state is not changing penalties for uninsured individuals and families with incomes up to $32,496 for an individual or $66,156 for a family of four, or those earning between 150.1 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Uninsured individuals in this group face penalties ranging from $19 to $58 per month, or $228 to $696 per year.

Individuals with incomes up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or less than $16,248 per year, and a family of four with an income of $33,084 or less, are not subject to the penalty and are not required to pay an enrollee premium for Commonwealth Care health insurance.

Massachusetts boasts the highest rate of insured individuals in the nation, in large part due to a surge in Medicaid enrollment over the past several years.