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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tax Reform and Health Care Reform

We hear lots of talk about tax reform and lots about health care reform, but rarely hear about the two together. While there are proposals to change the exclusion for employer-provided health care, such as President Bush's proposal to remove it and provide a standard deduction for health insurance, they typically don't consider either the entire health care or tax reform picture.
There are significant dollars in the tax code that should be on the table in reforming health care. All of the government dollars should be in the picture in looking at how to fund any change, such as universal coverage. The largest federal tax expenditure is the one where employees are not required to include in taxable income the value of the health insurance their employer provides to them. The estimated cost of this expenditure in 2007 was $134 billion. There are other health care tax breaks as well such as the itemized deduction for medical care and health savings accounts.

The employer-provided health care exclusion is a tremendous benefit to employees. For example, Susan's employer provides health insurance to employees. Susan pays about 20% of the cost and the employer pays the rest - about $10,000 per year. Susan's marginal federal and state tax rate is 30%. Thus, she saves $3,000 of taxes from the exclusion. BUT, if the exclusion were removed, she'd end up getting $10,000 of coverage for $3,000 - still a good deal!! And, she'd likely find that she really doesn't need as much insurance as she selected from her employer. She'd also know how much it costs (today, most employees don't have any idea of what their health insurance costs). And removal of the exclusion would mean that more Social Security and Medicare taxes would be collected.

For employees in a lower tax bracket, perhaps some tax relief could still be provided.
For more information on the topic of the intersection of health care and tax reform, see a recent short article of mine from the AICPA Taxation Insider - Pot of Gold in the Employer-Provided Healthcare Exclusion (6/08). It has more of the details as well as links to various proposals and reports.

The New America Foundation recently released a report about the challenges businesses face with employer-provided health care particularly given increasing costs of this fringe benefit.

There is a lot of money in the employer-provided health care exclusion (a pot of gold!). It is time to make a significant modification to it in order to better target the government dollars in this tax break, remove the adverse impact it has on health care spending, recognize the changed ways of living and working such that expectations of getting health insurance from your employer rather than on your own are outdated and too costly in our global economy, and to improve the federal income tax by broadening the base and lowering the rates.

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