Obamacare Watch: Judicial Watch Sues IRS and HHS for Records of Sharing of Taxpayers’ Private Information
Sharing of Taxpayer Information by IRS with Other Government Agencies May Be a Violation of Internal Revenue Code
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for records about the sharing of private taxpayer information under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The lawsuit was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Judicial Watch Inc. v. Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (No. 1:17-cv-00615)).
Judicial Watch filed the suit after the agencies refused to comply with its November 15, 2016, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the IRS and Health and Human Services seeking all records concerning their efforts to reach out to individuals claiming an exemption or paying a penalty for failing to purchase the mandatory Obamacare health insurance, as well as records where protected taxpayer information was shared between the IRS and HHS or any other state or federal government entity.
On September 21, 2016, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, and other House members sent a letter to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen stating in part:
We strongly object to any action by the Administration to improperly use sensitive taxpayer information to identify and harass individuals who have rejected the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) by choosing to pay a tax rather than be forced into a health care plan they don’t need and don’t want. One of the most important responsibilities of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is to protect sensitive taxpayer information. Recent reports have revealed that in order to prop up the failing health insurance exchanges created by the ACA, the Administration is planning to conduct outreach directly to taxpayers who paid a penalty under the law’s individual mandate in previous years. In order to facilitate this reported outreach, access to confidential return information is needed, which raises legal and privacy concerns. It also demonstrates the extent to which the Administration is willing to use the power of the IRS to insert itself into the lives of individuals who have made a legal and personal choice not to purchase a health plan.
As you are aware, the confidentiality of tax returns and return information is protected by law in 26 § U.S.C. 6103. It is implausible that information on whether an individual paid a penalty is relevant for determining ACA subsidy eligibility – the sole permitted use of this confidential data under current law.
As reported in the Washington Times:
Administration officials want to use IRS files to identify and contact the millions of Americans who have refused to sign up for insurance and are instead paying the “individual mandate” tax for going without coverage.
Officials say it makes sense to harness the IRS because the tax agency knows who hasn’t signed up and would be good candidates for outreach.
IRS officials insisted they wouldn’t share any private information with other agencies but said they didn’t see any problems in helping sell Obamacare by sending letters to holdouts.
“This particular mailing is consistent with our practices and the tax administration requirements set forth in the law,” the IRS said in a statement about its plans.
“Once again we have evidence that the Obama administration misused the IRS, this time to promote its ill-fated health care scheme,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “As the Trump administration and the Congress wrestle over Obamacare, it’s important to understand the full extent of the Obamacare ongoing assault on taxpayers and the rule of law. And it would be nice if the Trump agencies would stop the stalling and finally begin obeying the freedom of information law.”