ObamaCare includes so many taxes that it’s hard to keep track, but one of the worst takes effect on Jan. 1. This beaut is a levy on health insurance premiums that targets the small business and individual markets.
At $8 billion in 2014 and $101 billion over the next decade, the insurance tax is larger than ObamaCare’s taxes on medical devices and prescription drugs combined. The Internal Revenue Service classifies the tax as a “fee” but it functions like an excise tax on premiums. The IRS collects an annual flat amount specified by the Affordable Care Act to be allocated among the insurers according to market share.
But not all markets. IRS regulations published in November excluded “any entity that is a self-insured employer to the extent that such employer self-insures its employees’ health risks.” Since about four of five employers with more than 500 workers and most union-negotiated health plans are self-insured, they are spared from the tax. So is insurance on behalf of “government entities,” such as original Medicare (but not privately run Medicare Advantage).
This political selectivity means the most gold-plated public, private and labor plans are exempt and the tax burden falls on the saps who work for small businesses, the self-employed and individuals—i.e., the people who can least afford it.
The White House tells business that the tab will be picked up by deep-pocketed insurers, which is good for a laugh. The Congressional Budget Office reports the tax will be “largely passed through to consumers in the form of higher premiums” and “would ultimately raise insurance premiums by a corresponding amount.” The Joint Tax Committee and private economists, such as former CBO director Doug Holtz-Eakin, say the tax will boost insurance costs about 2% to 2.5%. The consultant Oliver Wyman estimates the take will rise to as much as $500 per covered worker by decade’s end.