The health care bill passed by the House on Thursday is a win for the wealthy, in terms of taxes.
While the Affordable Care Act raised taxes on the rich to subsidize health insurance for the poor, the repeal-and-replace bill passed by House Republicans would redistribute hundreds of billions of dollars in the opposite direction. It would deliver a sizable tax cut to the rich, while reducing government subsidies for Medicaid recipients and those buying coverage on the individual market.
Tax hikes reversed
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is funded in part through higher taxes on the rich, including a 3.8 percent tax on investment income and a 0.9 percent payroll tax. Both of these taxes apply only to people earning more than $200,000 (or couples making more than $250,000). The GOP replacement bill would eliminate these taxes, although the latest version leaves the payroll tax in place through 2023.
The House bill would also repeal the tax penalty for those who fail to buy insurance as well as various taxes on insurance companies, drug companies and medical device makers. The GOP bill also delays the so-called “Cadillac tax” on high-end insurance policies from 2020 to 2025.
All told, the bill would cut taxes by about $765 billion over the next decade.
The lion’s share of the tax savings would go to the wealthy and very wealthy. According to the Tax Policy Center, the top 20 percent of earners would receive 64 percent of the savings and the top 1 percent of earners (those making more than $772,000 in 2022) would receive 40 percent of the savings.
Help for the poor reduced
Over time, the GOP bill would limit the federal contribution to Medicaid, while shifting control of the program to states. Depending on what happens to costs, states may be forced to provide skimpier coverage, reduce their Medicaid rolls, or both. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that an earlier version of the bill would leave about 14 million fewer people covered by Medicaid by 2026. (The House voted on the current bill without an updated CBO report.)
CBO also anticipated fewer people would buy insurance through the individual market. With no tax penalty for going without coverage, some people would voluntarily stop buying insurance. Others would find coverage prohibitively expensive, as a result of changing rules governing insurance pricing and subsidies.
The GOP bill would allow insurance companies to charge older customers up to five times more than younger customers — up from a maximum 3-to-1 ratio under the current health law. The maximum subsidy for older customers in the GOP plan, however, is only twice what is offered to the young.
The bill also allows insurance companies to offer more bare-bones policies. As a result, young, healthy people could find more affordable coverage options. But older, sicker people would likely have to pay more.
In addition, because the subsidies offered in the Republican plan don’t vary with local insurance prices the way subsidies do in Obamacare, residents of high-cost, rural areas would also suffer. That could include a large number of Trump voters.