Health law bill includes nasty surprise, due in 2018 by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

Congressman Stephen Lynch was against the President’s health reform proposal before he was for it, and now he thinks that Republican efforts to repeal the law are “a colossal waste of time.” Better, he says, to focus on improving it, especially to get costs under control. Meanwhile, speaking at a New England Council briefing this morning, he revealed (a surprise to me, anyway) that embedded in the 2500-page law, is a provision to tax Americans on the value of their specific health plans, starting in 2018. This, he says, is the first time in the country’s history such a tax has been levied.

According to the law, there will be a 40-percent excise tax on “excess benefit” health coverage, the additional coverage beyond a threshold amount ($10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for families.) This was referred to during last year’s debate as a tax on “Cadillac” health plans. It may be imposed on the coverage provider, but it will undoubtedly be squeezed out of workers’ benefits and salaries in the final analysis.
As a result, Lynch notes, increases in wages over the ensuing years due to the recovering economy could well be “sucked up” by the imposition of this new tax (to the tune of $32 billion over ten years). In taxing the “excess” value of the health plan, the government would be penalizing those who have acted responsibly and provided decent coverage for themselves and their families. Workers like those at Gillette (in Lynch’s district) who have a “gold-plated health plan” will, he says, “get croaked.” Rather than impose this tax across the board, Lynch recommends a health care surcharge only for individuals earning $500,000 or more, or couples bringing in at least $1 million.

He says Congress should focus on containing health costs in other ways. For one thing, Lynch would eliminate the anti-competitive anti-trust exemption currently enjoyed by health insurance companies. (The only other industry exempted from anti-trust laws is major league baseball, but that’s a subject for another day!)

Another way Lynch would introduce more competition into the health sector is by creating a public option. He wouldn’t do it at a national level but would direct that states offer such a choice. Massachusetts could, for example, offer a low-cost, barebones policy the existence of which would force insurers to compete with that basic option. By doing it at the state level, the coverage would be geared to regional cost differences. Eventually, he figures, neighboring states in New England, with comparable cost structures, could have a regional public option.

Congress’ popularity, says Lynch, is “somewhere on the spectrum between the Taliban and swine flu.” And, this independent moderate Democrat who works across the aisle says regrettably it’s not apt to get any better given the election last fall of 89 new Representatives, half of whom have never even held elective office. They ran on promises that may not be wholly practical and don’t know how to compromise. One of those promises was to repeal “Obamacare.” Now that repeal has failed, the question is: can they function in a bipartisan way and work out some improvements to the new law and other issues? Let us hope. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very long two years.

3 Responses to Health law bill includes nasty surprise, due in 2018 by Marjorie Arons-Barron

  1. Mr. Lynne says:

    The problem with leaving these things untaxed is that they become preferred to income which is taxed. We’re effectively treating salary and health benefit compensation unequally with the tax break and it has an effect of distorting the market of compensation. By creating this ‘thumb on the scale’ by providing tax incentives to compensate with health plans rather than salary is also a component that contributes toward their rising costs.

    The result has been a lot of discord with unions during negotiations with health plans now because they figured they negotiated those deals with health plans instead of with more income. Now, of course, the health plans are growing way way faster than income and it’s become unsustainable in the long run.

  2. JoeS says:

    It shouldn’t be such a surprise, as it was certainly noted in the discussion leading up to approval of the health care law.

    What will be an issue is that the growth of the threshold for making a plan a “Cadillac” will be based on inflation, whereas we all know medical cost inflation has been running at about 3 times the overall rate. If that continues, the “Cadillac” will eventually become a “Ford”.

    But then the onerous penalty is likely to ensure that policies stay beneath that threshold, one way to control the rise in the cost of healthcare. However, when the premiums don’t increase we should expect the other costs like co-pays and deductibles to make up the difference.

    So, I guess I would have to agree that this is not the best way to control costs. But there may be other aspects of the health care plan that would, such as better fraud reduction and the work of the (mis-labelled) “death panels”.