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Matt Mackowiak: Lame duck Congress should roll back health tax

November 29, 2018

The issue of Obamacare’s hidden health insurance tax has been widely debated over the years, but it has taken on additional urgency yet again.

At a time when the economy is booming and wages are rising for the first time in more than 10 years, Congress should act immediately to prevent a new headwind from forming.

A quick reminder: The tax, known as the HIT, was a hidden and unnecessary tax inserted into the original Obamacare legislation. Even President Obama recognized the tax as harmful and unnecessary - he signed a bill that delayed its implementation through 2017. But now the expiration deadline is looming and the tax is back. Congress should move quickly to prevent health insurance premiums from increasing due to their inaction.

Health insurance premiums for 2020 are set now, in the fall of 2018. For as long as the HIT is around, insurance agencies will bake in this tax to premiums and pass the cost on to consumers. This is a fact.

From a political standpoint, repealing the HIT is a slam dunk. Employers, employees and families — no one benefits from this tax. Repealing the unnecessary HIT frees up hundreds of dollars annually for families.

This is also a way Congressional Republicans can roll back the HIT while moving closer to keeping their long-delayed promise to repeal Obamacare. While the HIT is an ingeniously clever device within Obamacare, repealing it continues to meaningfully chip away at the massive health care legislation.

Politics aside, HIT directly affects employers, seniors, families and consumers across America. Oliver Wyman, an international management consulting company, has released actuarial analysis on the HIT and the effects on specific markets.

The report estimates that some 152,000 and 286,000 private sector jobs will be lost by 2023 due to HIT, with increased premiums of $479 for families with small group coverage at small businesses. Seniors will see premiums increase annually at a similar amount — $482, which takes a toll on a fixed income.

Individually, consumers will see premiums increase $196 - further driving away healthy consumers from buying insurance and further destabilizing the market. In total, the report projects that, come January 1, 2020, over 142 million Americans will face a new tax to the tune of $20.3 billion.

Without Congress taking urgent action, these new tax increases threaten the Republicans’ biggest achievement of the last two years: tax reform.

The House Ways and Means Committee projects the 2017 tax law will result in $2,059 savings for the average family. The HIT will mean an increase of taxes by about $500 - instantly taking away 25 percent of the savings from the tax law.

Those are just the estimates; the reality could be worse. But only if Congress fails to act.

A bipartisan effort is already underway. The Health Insurance Premium Reduction Act, introduced by Republican Reps. Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Jackie Walorski of Indiana and Democratic Reps. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Ami Bera of California, suspends the health tax. Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, had a companion bill in the Senate. But both have gone nowhere since introduction.

Congress should support this bipartisan legislation that helps small businesses, families, seniors and everyday Americans immediately.

Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators.

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