While we were all debating the cost to our liberty due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), we were ignoring the cost to our pockets. If there ever was a reason for bipartisan rage about this law, it should be on the twenty - yes, twenty - hidden new taxes of this law. Making matters even more relevant is that seven of these taxes are levied on all citizens regardless of income. Hence, Mr. Obama’s promise not to raise taxes on anyone earning less than $250,000 is just another falsehood associated with this legislation.
The first, and best known, of these seven taxes that will hit all Americans as a result of Obamacare is the Individual Mandate Tax (no longer concealed as a penalty). This provision will require a couple to pay the higher of a base tax of $1,360 per year, or 2.5% of adjusted growth income starting with lower base tax and rising to this level by 2016. Individuals will see a base tax of $695 and families a base tax of $2,085 per year by 2016.
Next up is the Medicine Cabinet Tax that took effect in 2011. This tax prohibits reimbursement of expenses for over-the-counter medicine, with the lone exception of insulin, from an employee’s pre-tax dollar funded Health Saving Account (HSA), Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Reimbursement Account (HRA). This provision hurts middle class earners particularly hard since they earn enough to actually pay federal taxes, but not enough to make this restriction negligible.
The Flexible Spending Account (FSA) Cap, which will begin in 2013, is perhaps the most hurtful provision to the middle class. This part of the law imposes a cap of $2,500 per year (which is now unlimited) on the amount of pre-tax dollars that could be deposited into these accounts. Why is this particularly hurtful to the middle class? It is because funds in these accounts may be used to pay for special needs education for special needs children in the United States. Tuition rates for this type of special education can easily exceed $14,000 per year and the use of pre-tax dollars has helped many middle income families.
Another direct hit to the middle class is the Medical Itemized Deduction Hurdle which is currently 7.5% of adjusted gross income. This is the hurdle that must be met before medical expenses over that hurdle can be taken as a deduction on federal income taxes. Obamacare raises this hurdle to 10% of adjusted gross income beginning in 2013. Consider the middle class family with $80,000 of adjusted gross income and $8,000 of medical expenses. Currently, that family can get some relief from being able to take a $2,000 deduction (7.5% X $80,000 = $6,000; $8,000 –$6,000 = $2,000). An increase to 10% would eliminate the deduction in this example and if that family was paying a 25% federal tax rate, the real cost of that lost deduction would be $500.
The fifth new tax on the middle class, and all Americans, is the Health Savings Account (HSA) Withdrawal Tax Hike. This provision increases the additional tax on non-medical early withdrawals from an HSA from 10% currently to 20% beginning in 2013. This provision actually sets these accounts apart from Investment Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and other tax advantaged accounts, all of which remain with a 10% early withdrawal tax.
Another regressive tax that is part of this law began in 2010 and that is the Indoor Tanning Services Tax, which places a 10% excise tax on people using tanning salons. While some may regard this as insignificant, the broader implication is that this act of taxation is a blatant move by the federal government to control the behavior of citizens. This provision, as does the Individual Mandate and as Justice Kennedy said during the oral arguments on the constitutionality of the law said, “….fundamentally changes the relationship between the federal government and the citizen.”
The seventh new tax that directly impacts the middle class, along with all citizens, is the Excise Tax on Comprehensive Health Insurance Plans or the “Cadillac” Health Insurance Plan Tax. These are plans that provide extensive coverage and that are generally fully paid for, or largely paid for, by employers. This provision imposes a 40% excise tax on the employer-paid premium on taxpayers who are covered by such plans, beginning in 2018. The reason it begins in 2018 is because most unionized workers are covered by plans that fall under this definition and a deferral was made to spare union members from this tax for at least a period of time.
There are thirteen other taxes that apply to businesses and that apply to high income (over $250,000 per year) households. While these additional provisions will not impact the middle class directly, they can have serious indirect consequences for middle and low income earners. Beginning in 2014, the Employer Mandate Tax will impose an annual non-deductible tax on employers with more than 50 employees who do not provide health insurance for their employees.
The impact of this provision on low and middle income earners, and really all working Americans, is that employers will be confronted with three choices. The first is provide some level of health insurance, as many do today, and there would be no impact on employees. The second choice is to pay the penalty, which would most likely be less expensive than providing health insurance, and force employees to seek their own health insurance or purchase it through federal government controlled state exchanges. Studies have estimated that 20 million Americans will lose their employee funded health insurance as a result of this provision and employers electing this option. The third choice is for employers to lay off employees, or not hire additional employees, because Obamacare forces them to either provide health insurance or pay the new tax.
Another new tax, the Tax on Medical Device Manufacturers that begins in 2013, places a 2.3% excise tax on all items retailing for more than $100. This provision will not only drive up the cost of various medical devices ranging from mobility assistance devices to personal testing supplies, but will also impact an industry that employs 360,000 people in 6,000 plants across our country. This tax, while not a direct tax, would have significant negative impact on the middle class.
The Surtax on Investment Income for households earning $250,000 and more, beginning in 2013, will raise the Capital Gains Tax from 15% to 23.8% on investment income for these households and will raise Taxes on Dividends from 15% to 43.4% for the same households. Aside from the impact on retired citizens dependent on dividends, this provision will pull income from the private economy. In addition, the tax rate on Other Investment Income earned by Subchapter S Corporation (which many small business are organized as, allowing the owners to claim all business income as personal income) will rise from 35% to 43.4%. This part of the provision would place additional pressure on small businesses resulting in more layoffs and less hiring, impacting all American workers.
All but one of the remaining new taxes in Obamacare are directed at health industry businesses and while they will not impact middle income families directly, the additional costs will most likely be passed on to the public. The last new tax is really interesting, it is a tax on certain biofuels!
These are the facts. It does not matter if you support Mr. Obama and his new law or if you oppose it, the new taxes on the middle class or real and all Americans should understand their impact on their families and the economy. Citizens, regardless of political beliefs, should recognize that Obamacare was passed with almost no sunlight shined on these middle class tax increases and need to understand that the new law was sold with the promise that there would be no new middle class taxes. This is not partisan, it is simply the reality of politics.
For more information, read ATR's analysis of the Affordable Care Act's taxes here