Two Obamacare Taxes Likely to Be Delayed for Two Years

Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) (left) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Image via flickr

It is increasingly likely that two prominent Obamacare taxes that help pay for the law — on medical devices and high-cost health plans — will be delayed for two years.

Congressional negotiations are overlapping on an omnibus spending bill and a bill to renew several expired tax provisions. Both bills could be merged into one giant end-of-year package, a GOP negotiator said Wednesday. Either way, the two Affordable Care Act tax provisions are in the mix of options.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Wednesday that Congress is running out of time as debate continues on both the omnibus and tax extender bills, and deals remain in flux.

“I think they’re connected now, but whether it’ll be one vote or two votes, I don’t think we know the answer,” he said. “Some of the trade-offs have occurred not just within the tax extenders bill or the omnibus, but between those two bills.”

“Until everything’s decided, nothing’s decided,” he added.

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told reporters Wednesday that the tax extender negotiations include provisions to delay Obamacare’s Cadillac tax and medical device tax for two years.

Those two taxes, particularly the Cadillac tax, bring in significant amounts of revenue to fund the ACA. The Cadillac tax is a 40 percent excise tax on expensive employer-provided health benefits, designed to control health costs and address the employer-provided health insurance tax exemption.

Brady introduced a bill on Monday to extend current expired tax provisions for two years, and that bill did not include any health care provisions. The measure is intended as fallback position in case lawmakers aren’t able to hammer out a bigger tax package that would make permanent a series of popular tax credits. Democrats and Republicans have been horse-trading the different pieces of that package all week.

But when it comes to health care, there is broad agreement that the ACA taxes will be delayed. Brady said Wednesday that the two health tax delays could be attached to tax extenders legislation regardless of whether lawmakers come to agreement on a broader tax package.

“There’s clearly a lot of member support for a pause in those two [health care] areas. Bipartisan support. And so we’ll see how the process continues,” Brady said. “Hopefully, every day we get closer to a final package. But again, we know the clock’s ticking, so not much time left.”

The current stopgap funding for the government runs out on Friday. Lawmakers are expected to approve another stopgap bill later this week until Dec. 16. By then, negotiations on a year-long spending bill should be done.

Sources say that a delay of a third Obamacare tax, on health insurers, is also still in play. However, that provision will probably only be included if lawmakers come to agreement on the broader tax package, according to a lobbyist close to the discussions.

Although current negotiations are only mulling a delay of the health care taxes, the mere discussion spells trouble for their long-term existence. Lawmakers have a tendency to continue delaying taxes once they have done so before.

“They say it’s a two-year pause, a two-year delay. There’s a good chance — like these extenders we passed — two years will go by and we’ll do it again, two years will go by and we’ll do it again,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee who has been vocal about maintaining the health taxes to keep revenues flowing and curb Obamacare’s burden on taxpayers.

Repealing or delaying the taxes would not impact how the ACA functions. Coverage expansion would not be disrupted.

But the Cadillac tax is one of Obamacare’s key provisions designed to control health care costs. A two-year delay wouldn’t have significant long-term effects, but a string of delays would become costly to taxpayers.

“If delay begets eventual repeal of the Cadillac tax, that puts a big break in the ACA’s marriage between coverage expansion and cost control,” said Loren Adler, research director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “The Cadillac tax is, in fact, the only real cost control lever being applied to the employer market, where most Americans get health coverage.”

A full repeal of the Cadillac tax would cost around $90 billion over 10 years. But over 20 years, the price tag jumps to $700 billion.