Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Baucus Bill increases taxes on all Americans

Today the Senate Finance committee will start their overhaul of the Baucus bill. At last report there are 500 plus amendments proposed to the bill. One of the hot button items in the Baucus bill to be discussing the 35% excise tax on insurers "Cadillac plans" they offer. The "Cadillac plan" is defined as policies with a yearly premium cost of $8000 for an individual and $21,000 for a family. The excise tax is expected to generate $215B over 10 years. Michael Tanner, a health policy analyst at the Cato Institute, warns, "They're assuming that everybody's going to keep offering and buying these Cadillac plans. A 35% tax is huge" (Los Angeles Times). President Obama and other Democrats have chimed the 20% gross margin that insurance companies enjoy and it is time for them to share the wealth. Are we naïve to believe that insurance companies will not pass along the 35% excise tax among all the plans they offer thus "taxing" low and middle class by increasing premiums on non-Cadillac plans.

There is optimism behind the Baucus bill as it moves the conversation forward. "While we each have outstanding concerns we wish to see addressed, Senator Baucus has taken an important and critical step forward with this legislation, which is budget neutral and reduces future health care costs," says a statement signed by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Me), Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Ct), and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb) (http://voices.kansascity.com/node/5937). The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) does acknowledge the plan does reduce the federal deficit in the long term through revenue generated from the excise tax on "Cadillac plans" and savings in the Medicare program.

What if the revenue from the "Cadillac plans" does not materialize? Historically speaking when taxes are raised, i.e. capital gains, the government realizes less revenue. In the case of health care, the excise tax may see the elimination of "Cadillac plans" and an increase in premiums of lesser plans to spread the tax. The increase premium is essentially a tax on Americans. Many will argue that premiums will increase regardless if nothing is done. I agree with that statement but let's not make it worse. We all agree something needs to be done to reduce premiums and other costs within the system. But to place an excise tax on plans that insurance companies are offering does nothing but raise potential revenue for the government while not lowering costs.

During his one-on-one conversation with George Stephanopoulos, President Obama was pressed that having a health care mandate on Americans is essentially a tax. The president responded that it is "not true" that mandating individuals obtain health care is a tax, but as Politico.com pointed out that the president is wrong. The Politico points out that on page 29 of the Baucus bill states "The consequence for not maintaining insurance would be an excise tax" and mentions later in the bill "The excise tax would be assessed through the tax code and applied as an additional amount of Federal tax owed." Is it okay now to call the president a "Liar"? The H.R. 3200 bill also calls for a tax "on individuals without acceptable health care coverage". Both bills would violate President Obama's campaign promise that no one making less than $250,000 will see their taxes raised by one cent.

President Obama, in his conversation with Stephanopoulos, rebutted on the excise tax and mandate tax that "the first thing we've got to understand is you've got what is effectively a tax increase taking place on American families right now. The Kaiser Family Foundation report just came out last week. Health Care premiums went up 5.5 percent last year, at a time when the rest of the economy, inflation was actually negative. So that is a huge bite out of people's pockets." True premiums have increased and will continue to increase if nothing is done but none of the bill in Congress assist in stabilizing cost let alone driving them downward. To drive costs down we need competition. The public option and/or the Co-Op option do nothing to increase competition. To really increase competition is to open the borders of the states and allow people from one area of the country to purchase health care coverage from other areas of the country.

Instead the government feels mandating that all citizens obtain coverage along with the public option and/or Co-Ops is the answer. They are dead wrong. The mandate is a tax even though the president fails to realize that. George Stephanopoulos asked President Obama "Under this mandate, the government is forcing people to spend money, fining you if you don't. How is that not a tax?" To which the president responded with "Well, hold on a second, George. Here – here's what's happening. You and I are both paying $900, on average –our families—in higher premiums because of uncompensated care. Now what I've said is that if you can't afford health insurance, you certainly shouldn't be punished for that. That's just piling on." Stephanopoulos continued to press the tax issue by breaking out the Merriam Webster's Dictionary to define tax which ticked off the president. In the end President Obama said that "I absolutely reject that notion" in reference the mandate of health care coverage is a tax even though it states it both the Baucus bill and H.R. 3200.

Now that being said will President Obama sign a bill of similar fashion after his pledge not to increase taxes on those making less than $250,000. The rest of the week will be focused on the Senate Finance Committee. It will be interesting to see how the political games are played and what the Baucus bill looks like afterwards. Many say that the health care reform is not an easy task; yet I contend certain aspects are. Why doesn't Congress not act on those aspects?