Killing the Obamacare Tax Penalty Would Not Amount to a Tax Increase

Only in Washington can removing a tax penalty be considered a tax increase.

The proposed tax overhaul that is quickly making its way through Congress would eliminate Obamacare’s individual mandate. That mandate—ruled a “tax” by the Supreme Court—charges taxpayers anywhere from $695 to upward of $10,000 (based on their income) if they do not purchase the type of health insurance that the federal government requires them to.

According to the most recent IRS report, for the 2015 tax year, 6.2 million taxpayers paid the penalty and 82 percent of those taxpayers made less than $50,000 per year. Another 12.7 million taxpayers qualified for an exemption, and 4.3 million more failed to report their health insurance status on their tax forms.

Without eliminating the individual mandate penalty, any of those 4.3 million taxpayers that didn’t report their health insurance coverage status and are not enrolled in an approved health plan will also have to pay the penalty next year when greater enforcement measures are scheduled to kick in.

So how does removing hundreds or thousands of dollars in “tax” penalties result in a tax increase, as some claim?

Well, if an individual or family decides that it is not in their best interest to purchase highly regulated, expensive, and often excessive health insurance, they will forego any Obamacare tax subsidy that they would qualify for if they did purchase the coverage.

Depending on each taxpayer’s income and available health insurance options, the Obamacare subsidies can range from no more than a few dollars to over $12,000 a year per individual and upward of $20,000 per year for families.

It is because the Congressional Budget Office counts those lost credits as tax revenue increases that the bill has been said by some to increase taxes on individuals and families making less than about $40,000 per year.

However, when the Congressional Budget Office looked at the impact of the proposed tax reform excluding the effects of eliminating the Obamacare penalty, it determined that all income groups would receive significant tax cuts through 2025.

The Congressional Budget Office’s conventional methodology, which says eliminating the Obamacare penalty would produce an increase in tax revenue, is misleading. What they are really saying is that the government would lose less revenue because some people would voluntarily forego a tax credit that they would otherwise claim if they bought the coverage.

The argument that this is somehow a tax increase also misses two other important points:

  • Declining the tax credit is optional.

The alleged tax increases—as a result of not receiving an Obamacare subsidy—are entirely optional. Individuals and families who currently receive tax credits for their health insurance can continue to receive the exact same credit under the proposed bill.

The only change is that they have the option—without penalty—to not purchase the government’s proscribed health insurance and, as a consequence, to not receive a tax credit.

Under the proposed bill, any time they change their mind, they will still qualify for the exact same premium tax credit that they would currently get for buying the coverage.

  • Taxpayers can’t spend the credits on what they want.

Unlike other tax credits that individuals receive back as cash, which they can spend on anything, Obamacare tax credits aren’t like cash. They’re more like gift cards that can only be used to purchase certain types of qualified health insurance from insurance companies.

Obamacare credits do not boost individuals’ or families’ disposable incomes. Instead, they boost insurance companies’ revenues. Eliminating the individual mandate penalty, on the other hand, could increase taxpayers’ disposable incomes by hundreds or thousands of dollars.

To count the decisions of some people to not buy health insurance—and thus forego Obamacare tax credits that were never actually delivered to them—as tax increases, is misleading to say the least.

Eliminating the Obamacare individual mandate will not reduce any taxpayer’s incomes by a single cent. It will, however, reduce the tax bills of many individuals’ and families—based on their own choices—by hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

And most importantly, it will leave taxpayers freer to make personal decisions absent the heavy hand of Uncle Sam.

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