Significant progress was made last week in Washington toward protecting hardworking Americans from the “Cadillac tax”—a harmful and highly unpopular excise tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans. Last year, Congress voted to delay implementation of the Cadillac tax until the year 2020. The two-year delay of the Cadillac tax’s implementation, from 2018 to 2020, was a step in the right direction, but employees across the country are counting on Congress either to repeal or revise the tax before it goes into effect. Late last Wednesday, Sen. John ThuneJohn ThuneWhy Trump should abolish the White House faith office Trump’s infrastructure plan: What we know Senate takes first step toward repealing ObamaCare MORE (R-S.D.) introduced legislation that works toward this goal.
Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress agree that the Cadillac tax will have unintended consequences for those who rely on Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts as critical ways to manage healthcare costs in an era of rising high premiums and co-pays. As it stands now, employees’ own individual contributions to their HSAs and FSAs are counted toward the Cadillac tax’s threshold, and as a result, many employers will have to drop their offerings of HSAs and FSAs in order to avoid triggering the tax threshold. Thune’s bill, the “Preserving Consumer Health Accounts Act” (S. 2698), would exempt individual employee contributions from the tax calculation.
Unfairly depriving employees and middle-class families of this benefit makes little economic sense. According to the most recent American Health Policy Institute survey, almost one in five employers were already scaling back or eliminating FSAs entirely, and almost 13 percent were doing so with HSAs. That trend will only continue. Furthermore—and importantly—users of HSAs and FSAs tend to be middle-class families, earning, on average, roughly $57,000 per year. HSAs and FSAs are one of the most effective ways for families to make healthcare more affordable, manageable, and predictable. Taking away offerings such as HSAs and FSAs will ultimately mean healthcare costs will be more expensive and less predictable, and individuals will likely seek less preventative and wellness care.
Champions like Sens. Dean HellerDean HellerThe Hill's 12:30 Report Five things to watch in round two of Trump confirmation fights Week ahead: Dems to grill Trump Treasury pick MORE (R-Nev.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownDem senators to Trump: Don't tell consumer bureau chief 'you're fired' Trump, House GOP could clash over 'Buy America' Four takeaways from Carson's confirmation hearing MORE (D-Ohio), and Reps. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) all recognize this, and have been pushing for repeal of the Cadillac tax for some time. Their collective leadership on the issue was instrumental in Congress’ two-year delay of the tax to 2020. Additional champions in 2016 such as Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchTrump Treasury pick gets support from ex-mortgage assistance leader Five things to watch in round two of Trump confirmation fights Dems push for outside witnesses at Mnuchin hearing MORE (R-Utah), Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.), and now Senator Thune, have introduced bills that would revise the tax significantly by exempting individuals’ contributions to their HSAs and FSAs from the tax calculation.
It is clear that the momentum behind repealing or revising the Cadillac tax is growing (this is underscored by the fact that all of the 2016 presidential candidates have indicated that the tax needs to be dealt with.) These changes are the right policy for the millions of American workers who will otherwise be harmed, and the right policy for the country as a whole.
Sweetnam is the legislative and technical director for the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation. He has also served as the benefits tax counsel for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and as tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee.