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Tax Preparers Offer New Service -- Signing You Up for Obamacare

You've got to do your taxes and now also get health care coverage. Why not do both at the same time?
You've got to do your taxes and now also get health care coverage. Why not do both at the same time? Damian Dovarganes / AP

You've got to do your taxes and now also get health care coverage. Why not do both at the same time?

Two major tax preparation companies are making a big push this tax season to help customers sign up for now-mandatory health insurance. H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt Tax Service are partnering with online insurance brokers GoHealth and Getinsured.

They are steering customers to those brokers if the clients say they want to enroll in Obamacare insurance after getting their tax returns prepared. Given potential tax penalties under the new law, the companies see it as a natural fit—and a potentially growing service.

Tax filing season may be the ideal time for buying insurance because about 75 percent of U.S. filers are getting a refund—an average of $3,000 per family—and thus may have money to spend on their first month's premium.

But there is another major reason for tax preparers to focus on Obamacare. Under the health-reform law, the penalty for failing to have health insurance by March 31 is $95 or 1 percent of a person's annual adjusted gross income. That penalty will be deducted from whatever tax refund is eligible for next year, and in future years.

Jackson Hewitt refers clients eligible to buy Obamacare from an government-run exchange to Getinsured or tells them how to complete the process at home. Jackson Hewitt also will help enroll customers if their income qualifies them for the government-run Medicaid and CHIP health coverage programs, which serve lower-income adults and children, respectively.

At all of H&R Block's 11,000 offices this season, every customer who gets a tax return prepared is also presented with a tax and health-care review form.