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 ThuneVerizon, Yahoo slash merger deal by 0M over data breaches Angst in GOP over Trump's trade agenda Where Trump’s travel ban stands 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 HellerPlanned Parenthood targets GOP lawmakers amid ObamaCare protests Overnight Finance: Fed chief tries to stay above partisan fray | Bill would eliminate consumer agency | Trump signs repeal of SEC rule on foreign payments Fed chief looks to stay above partisan fray in Trump era MORE (R-Nev.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownHouse bill would prevent Trump from lifting Russian sanctions Dem senators call for independent Flynn probe Overnight Regulation: Trump signs repeal of oil industry transparency rule 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 Hatch7 key players in the GOP's border tax fight Public lands dispute costs Utah a major trade show Overnight Tech: GOP chairman to propose high-skilled visa overhaul | Zuckerberg's 5,700 word letter | Tech lobbies gear up ahead of internet fight 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.