Obamacare’s tax on work! (CBO/Wall Street Journal)


None of the new distortions that the Senate health care bill will layer onto the already-distorted tax code have received the attention they deserve, but in particular its effects on marginal tax rates could use scrutiny.  Incredibly, for those with lower incomes, ObamaCare will impose a penalty as high as 34 percent on . . . work, says the Wall Street Journal.

Central to Max Baucus’s plan — assuming the public option stays dead — is an insurance “exchange,” through which individuals and families could choose from a menu of standardized policies offered at heavily subsidized rates, provided that their employers do not offer coverage.  The subsidies are distributed on a sliding scale based on income, and according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) 23 million people will participate a decade from now, at a cost to taxpayers of some $461 billion.

Think about a family of four earning $42,000 in 2016, which is between 150 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level:

  • CBO says a mid-level “silver” plan will cost about $14,700 in premiums, of which the family will pay $2,600 — since the government would pay the other $12,100. If the family breadwinner (or breadwinners, because the subsidies are based on combined gross income) then gets a raise or works overtime and wages rise to $54,000, the subsidy drops to $9,900.
  • That amounts to an implicit 34 percent tax on each additional dollar of income.

Or consider a single worker earning $20,600 and buying an individual “silver” policy with a premium at $5,000:

  • Again according to CBO, if his income rises to $26,500, his subsidy plummets to $2,700 from $4,400 (including a cost-sharing subsidy that goes away).
  • This is a 29 percent marginal tax; moving to other income levels yields increases in the neighborhood of 20 percent to 23 percent for both individuals and families.
  • Jim Capretta, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, calculates that when combined with other policies like the Earned Income Tax Credit that also phase out, the effective marginal rate would rise to nearly 70 percent at twice the poverty level.

Source: Editorial, “ObamaCare’s Tax on Work,” Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2009.

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