What are the tax implications of John McCain’s health care proposal? The key components are that health insurance will no longer be tax deductible but individuals will receive a $5000 credit of purchasing health insurance. Let’s work out some simple math to see how this will impact the life of a typical American.
Example with Max, Rob and Rich
Currently, the deductibility of employer provided health insurance is highly regressive. Let’s look at 3 individuals. One is middle class and his name is Max; the other two are rich and their names are Rob and Rich. Middle class Max has a 25% tax rate, while Rob and Rich pay a 40% income tax rate. Rob has the same $12,000 health insurance package as Max, but Rich has a more generous $16,000 plan. Let’s see how this affects their tax bills.
|Health Ins. Cost||$12,000||$12,000||$16,000|
|Health ins. tax liability
|Tax liability if ins. tax-deductible
|Net taxes w/ $5000 credit||-$2,000||-$200||$1,400|
The tax system as it currently stands is very regressive. Max, Rich and Robert pay the same $0 taxes on their health care benefit regardless of their income and regardless of the size of their health insurance benefit. If health insurance was taxed, then middle class Max will pay less taxes on his health insurance than rich Rob and rich Rich because Max has a lower marginal tax rate. On the other hand, individuals with more generous health insurance packages get a larger tax benefit when health insurance benefits are tax deductible. Even though Rob and Rich are in the same tax bracket, Rich saves more money than Rob when health insurance is tax deductible, since Rich has a more generous health insurance plan. Tax deductibility encourages people to buy more generous health insurance packages at the expense of the taxpayer.
The McCain plan.
Will the McCain plan lead to higher net taxes? In my example, Max and Rob save money under the McCain plan. Only Rich owes more taxes since he is in a higher tax bracket and has a more generous health insurance plan. Of course, health insurance costs will increase over time, so McCain may want to index his health insurance credit to inflation.
Individuals are also worried that if they pay for health insurance themselves, this is a pure transfer of cost. If I support McCain, will my health insurance costs go up by $12,000? or $7000? In reality, if employers stop paying for health insurance and transfer the burden to employees, in a competitive market employers will increase wages to compensate for the loss of the health insurance benefit. Most economic research has found that the cost incidence of employer-provided health insurance appears almost 100% through lower employee wages.
We do have to worry that as individuals start to pay for individual health insurance plans, the problems of adverse selection may worsen. Further, non-group plans are more expensive to administer than group plans. Thus, the shift in the type of plans individuals select may affect the cost, but the direct tax effect of the McCain plan will lead to a reduction or small increase in tax liability from health insurance benefits.
Effect on Employers
Some individual believe that the McCain plan would increase taxes for business. This is incorrect. If health insurance businesses were taxed, individuals would pay the tax. For businesses, health insurance still counts as a labor cost and would reduce their profit and thus tax liability. If individuals would receive a $12,000 health insurance package from work, currently they do not owe any taxes on this benefit. If individuals were taxed on this benefit, then an individual in a 25% tax bracket would owe $3000 in additional taxes. If you are in the 40% tax bracket, you will owe $4800. This means on net, the McCain plan would decrease your taxes by $2000 for the 25% tax bracket and $200 in the 40% tax bracket.
Also, even if the employer paid for health insurance for a group, each individual would be taxed according to the average cost of the health insurance plan per worker (likely weighted by whether it was a family or single plan).