White House overreaches in healthcare reform defense

The White House is sensitive to misinformation, spread by critics, about its signature healthcare reform law.

And in a blog post Tuesday, Stephanie Cutter, the administration’s head of healthcare reform messaging, shot down one persistent rumor: that information about health benefits added to employees' tax forms will translate into higher income taxes. That, she said, is not true.

Employers have the option of adding the value of the plans to 2011 W-2 forms and will be required to do so in 2012, but the goal is to inform employees about their benefits, not tax them.

But the White House seems to have taken the rebuttal a bit far. Cutter goes on to make a general statement that suggests the new law will never tax healthcare plans, which isn't true either.

"For months," she writes, "opponents of health reform have falsely claimed that the Affordable Care Act would lead to the taxation of health care benefits. The claim wasn't true when the rumor first surfaced, it isn't true today and it won't be true tomorrow."

While the W-2 rumors are demonstrably false, the law does create an excise tax on high-cost healthcare plans. Starting in 2018, so-called "Cadillac plans" will be subject to a 40 percent tax on excess benefits.

The law defines such plans as costing more than $10,200 a year for individuals and $27,500 for families, with higher thresholds for risky professions such as firefighters and miners. The tax was one of the most controversial and complicated parts of healthcare reform, with unions pushing until the last minute for more concessions, while budget hawks — including then-White House Budget Director Peter Orszag — argued that it would help keep healthcare demand and costs under control by making care more expensive for people with insurance.

Asked about the blog post, the White House made clear it only meant to address the W-2 rumor.

"False and misleading rumors regarding W2 forms and the new health care law have persisted," a White House official said, "and we have an obligation to stop the rumor mill."