Last year the IRS processed over 230 million tax returns, and responded to nearly 70 million phone calls from American taxpayers. They are responsible for enforcing the 71,000 page tax code, and beginning in 2014 the IRS will also take on the task of making sure Americans have qualifying health care plans. According to Sandra Block of USA Today.com, more than 4 million Americans could be subject to penalties of up to $1,000 by 2016 if they fail to obtain health insurance.
While the IRS can impose liens or levies, seize property or seek jail time against people who don't pay taxes, it's barred from taking such actions against taxpayers who ignore the insurance mandate. In the arsenal instead: the ability to withhold refunds from taxpayers who decline to pay the penalty, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said this month.
Still, compliance with the health reform law will be largely voluntary, says Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University. "By taking criminal sanctions and liens and levies off the table, the IRS' hands are tied, to a considerable extent."