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Obamacare Is No Stumbling Block For Taxpayers This Year

If you haven’t done your taxes yet, this ad from H&R Block might make you feel even more anxious.

Meg Sutton, H&R Block’s senior advisor for tax and health care services, offered some details on what the big changes are.

“So the big changes are, really, just filing that return,” she explained. “And so, getting into the office, recording your income and your household size, that’s the biggest change you’ll see.”

But people have to do that every year. Are there new forms people have to file this year because of the health care law?

“Not this year, no,” said Sutton.

What’s new is not in peoples’ tax paperwork this year she explained, but in preparing for the new federal subsidies that millions of Americans will be able to apply for to help them buy individual health insurance policies next year. Since people can start signing up for plans from the new health insurance marketplaces as early as October of this year, a 2012 tax return could come in handy.

“The 2012 tax return will be used to establish a baseline to determine your eligibility to for a tax credit to pay for health care benefits,” Sutton said.

Eligibility for the new health insurance subsidies will be based on income and family size. Information from 2012 tax returns, the one people are filing this year, should be automatically pulled up on a computer screen when people apply for the subsidies this fall.

“But it’s just a baseline,” said Tara Straw, of the advocacy group Health Care for America Now, which supports the Affordable Care Act.

“Nothing in that return locks people into a certain income or a certain family composition that is unchangeable if it’s not representative of their actual situation in 2014,” Straw added.

What will actually determine whether someone gets a subsidy and how big that subsidy will be isn’t what they report on their tax forms this year at all, but how much they estimate they will make in 2014. That could be the same as what’s on their tax form this year, or it could be very different.

So when Straw saw the H&R Block ad saying, “the Affordable Care Act means big changes this year when you file your taxes,” she said she found it “fairly misleading.”

“Unfortunately right now with this ad it sounds like they’re just trying to drum up business by emphasizing complications,” she said.

A recent poll shows two-thirds of Americans don’t really understand the health care law. Straw acknowledged that’s a problem.

“That’s actually where companies like H&R Block could be doing a real service, if they’re actually using their outreach to the community to help educate people on the benefits,” said Straw.

H&R Block says it’s doing that: offering all its customers a free health care and tax review this year that they say  onlytakes about five minutes. They also have a guide to how the law might affect different tax profiles. But as far as filing any new tax forms related to the health care law: Those will come in April of 2015.

This story is part of a collaboration that includes Colorado Public Radio, NPR and Kaiser Health News.