Although the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, requires all Americans to carry personal health insurance or face annual penalties for noncompliance, there are a number of exemptions. The most common form of exemption is related to household income. Those individuals or families that meet criteria pertaining to low income will not be required to pay for health insurance, and in most cases, will be eligible for free healthcare services. The exemptions also pertain to individuals who are homeless or facing eviction, who have filed for bankruptcy, who are incarcerated, or who are facing a number of other hardships (as detailed by existing laws). There are also religious exemptions that allow members of certain religious groups to decline health coverage without facing penalty. But what religions are exempt and why?
There are two ways in which you might claim a religious exemption under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). First, you might be part of a healthcare sharing ministry. These groups must meet several criteria in order to qualify for healthcare exemptions for their members. According to the guidelines listed on Healthcare.gov, they must be tax-exempt organizations, they must “share a common set of ethical or religious beliefs”, and they must be willing to share the costs of medical care for all members, as prescribed by their religious belief structure, even in the event that members are faced with unexpected and/or ongoing medical costs. In other words, the religious group takes on the responsibility of medical expenses for all of its members, eliminating the legal requirement to pay for health insurance.
The second way to take advantage of Obamacare’s religious exemption is to be a member of a religious group that is recognized by the Social Security Administration and is also known as being “conscientiously opposed to accepting any insurance benefits”. So if you’d like to receive Social Security or Medicare benefits one day, you probably shouldn’t try to claim this exemption now. In addition, your religious group or sect must have been in existence since at least December 31st, 1950. If your religious group does not meet these stipulations, you cannot claim the exemption and you will be held responsible for securing appropriate healthcare coverage or possibly paying a penalty for failure to comply with federal law.
As for finding out whether or not your religious group qualifies for either of these exemptions, it’s probably best to speak with leaders within your organization. They should be able to inform you of the legal status of your religious group. If you are eligible for an exemption and you would like to take advantage, you will need to fill out the appropriate paperwork for the exemption you’re seeking. Documents are available through the Healthcare.gov website. Until you receive your exemption, though, you may be held liable for costs associated with Obamacare, including the cost of personal health insurance or any penalties for failing to carry such coverage.
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