With Obamacare exceeding the Administration's goal of 7 million sign-ups for private health coverage this week, there's no longer any doubt about the dramatic impact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is having on healthcare coverage throughout the country. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding about the various tax provisions included as part of the ACA.
Here are the five key facts to remember about tax policy in the ACA:
1. The Affordable Care Act includes tax subsidies of $940 billion for low- and middle-income families.
While endless coverage has been given to the tax increases (mostly on the rich) used to pay for the ACA, the reality is that the act also includes over $940 billion in tax subsidies over the next decade to help individuals and families pay for health insurance. In fact, a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that as of February 28, 2014, 3.5 million people have already qualified for a total of about $10 billion in annual premium subsidies, which breaks down to an average subsidy of $2,890 per person. By 2018, the CBO expects the number of people receiving tax subsidies to help pay for healthcare to reach as high as 20 million.
2. Only two percent of Americans will pay the tax penalty for not having insurance.
The tax penalty on individuals who do not purchase health insurance will be paid by hardly anyone. According to the CBO, only an estimated two percent of the US population will owe the rather modest penalty.
More importantly, the provision in the ACA banning discrimination against pre-existing conditions cannot work without the penalty for not purchasing health insurance. Without the tax penalty, the ban would cause a significant increase in the cost of health insurance premiums because it would allow individuals to simply delay obtaining insurance until they need care.
3. About three-fourths of the tax increases included to pay for health reform apply to businesses or married couples making over $250,000 and single people making over $200,000.
Our calculations show that about three-fourths of tax increases apply to businesses or married couples making over $250,000 and single people making over $200,000. For example, the biggest revenue-raiser in the ACA is the expansion of the Hospital Insurance tax so that it applies at a higher rate for very high-earners and no longer exempts wealthy people’s investment income. These reforms were originally proposed (PDF) by Citizens for Tax Justice.
4. Healthcare reform includes billions in tax subsidies to help small businesses.
Every politician loves to talk about helping small businesses, but opponents of the ACA have been surprisingly quiet when it comes to discussing the estimated $14 billion in tax subsidies that the ACA will provide small businesses over the next decade to help pay for health insurance for their employees. The tax credit can actually be worth up to 50 percent of a small business’s contribution toward its employees’ premium costs.
5. The medical device excise tax is worth keeping.
Since the passage of the ACA, the effects of the medical device excise tax have been wildly distorted by industry opponents of the tax. They will enjoy increased business as a result of the ACA’s increase in coverage, but don’t want to shoulder any of the costs. Despite their claims to the contrary, the tax is not large enough to have a significant impact on the industry.
Repealing the tax would cost about $30 billion over 10 years, which would either require raising taxes on other groups or increasing the deficit. It’s also worth nothing that medical device companies like Baxter International already pay extremely low effective income tax rates tax rates and enjoy substantial profits.