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Republicans are worried about individual mandate enforcement after they've repealed it. Photo: Andrew Harrer / Getty Images

The GOP has been touting its repeal of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, one of the least popular pieces of the law. Yet this tax season, mandate enforcement is actually ramping up — and the White House is nervous about it.

Between the lines: This year, taxpayers will have to tell the IRS whether they had health care coverage — and pay a penalty if they didn't. Some Republicans worry the enforcement could awkwardly clash with their messaging about the mandate being gone.

The issue: Since the ACA was enacted, the IRS had accepted "silent returns" — tax returns with the section indicating whether a person has ACA-compliant health insurance left blank.

  • This year is the first time that taxpayers must fill out the section in order for the IRS to accept their returns.
  • There were about 8 million silent returns filed for tax year 2016, according to the Taxpayer Advocate Service.

The White House is worried. "There’s a sense within the White House of, 'Why would we penalize Americans for the first time for a policy — a vestige of the Obama era — that we fought tooth and nail to undo. This isn’t our legacy & we shouldn’t own it or make the American people,'" a White House official told me.

Messaging problems: The individual mandate repeal is already complicated, and there are messaging problems even without the new reporting mandate.

  • A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that only 36% of the public is aware Congress repealed the mandate.
  • Although the White House has been touting repeal now, it doesn't take effect until 2019 — meaning people won't see the difference on their tax forms until 2020, when they file their 2019 returns.
  • “This can all get really confusing if the messaging isn’t clear. I think the messaging thus far is just that we got rid of the individual mandate," said Lanhee Chen, a GOP strategist and health care expert. "It may create some expectations that can't be fulfilled because of the way the law was written.”

On the other hand, here's American Action Forum President Doug Holtz-Eakin on the end of silent returns: “I think it’ll be a non-issue. I really do. If [Congress] think[s] it’s a big enough deal, they should pass legislation" to end enforcement.

Go deeper

Biden's Day 1 challenges: The immigration reset

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President-elect Biden has an aggressive Day One immigration agenda that relies heavily on executive actions to undo President Trump's crackdown.

Why it matters: It's not that easy. Trump issued more than 400 executive actions on immigration. Advocates are fired up. The Supreme Court could threaten the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and experts warn there could be another surge at the border.

10 hours ago - Sports

Broncos and 49ers the latest NFL teams impacted by coronavirus crisis

From left, Denver Broncos quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Jeff Driskel during an August training session at UCHealth Training Center in Englewood, Colorado. Photo: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the NFL season into chaos, with all Denver Broncos quarterbacks sidelined, the San Francisco 49ers left without a home or practice ground and much of the Baltimore Ravens team unavailable, per AP.

Driving the news: The Broncos confirmed in a statement Saturday night that quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles were identified as "high-risk COVID-19 close contacts" and will follow the NFL's mandatory five-day quarantine, making them ineligible for Sunday's game against New Orleans.

Updated 14 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: McConnell temporarily halts in-person lunches for GOP caucusColorado Governor and partner test positive.
  3. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in DecemberAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  4. Education: U.S. public school enrollment drops as pandemic persists.
  5. Cities: Surge in cases forces San Francisco to impose curfew — Los Angeles County issues stay-at-home order, limits gatherings.
  6. Sports: NFL bans in-person team activities Monday as crisis engulfs league, Tuesday due to COVID-19 surge — NBA announces new coronavirus protocols.
  7. World: London police arrest more than 150 during anti-lockdown protests — Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.