The Secret Plan to Tax Your Health Benefits

The Affordable Care Act pulled the nation out of a health care crisis. It expanded coverage dramatically, dropping the uninsured rate to record lows and bringing skyrocketing costs under control. It gave millions of working people the peace of mind that they could see a doctor when they need to, that a pre-existing condition or a medical emergency wouldn’t ruin them financially.

But instead of building on the success of the ACA, priority number one for the congressional majority is to repeal it, putting coverage for some 30 million people at risk. And in its place, they want to pass a bill that undermines rather than strengthens the health care system. And if that’s not bad enough, here’s the truly unbelievable part: To pay for their plan, they want to tax workers’ health care benefits, which means that millions of people who get their health coverage from their job would be staring at a bigger bill from the IRS.

But it gets worse. In addition to afflicting the afflicted, the bill also comforts the comfortable. While the middle class pays more, millionaires pay less. They get an average tax cut of approximately $50,000, which is the total annual income for a lot of working families. And if you’re really rich, your tax break is even more generous. Those with incomes greater than $3.7 million will receive nearly $200,000 on average, and the 400 wealthiest families in America will each get $7 million back from the government.

Obviously, a bill that forces working people to pay higher taxes for inferior health care is going to be a tough sell. During the recent congressional recess, members faced a wave of grassroots opposition to ACA repeal at town hall meetings in their districts.

So what’s their solution? Keep their bill under lock and key. Instead of a robust debate, they’re working on it behind closed doors. Their own leaders are allowed to review the legislation in a secret reading room; but most members, and more importantly the general public, are being kept in the dark.

We are talking about a sweeping proposed change affecting tens of millions of people and an industry that accounts for nearly one-fifth of the U.S. economy. Yet, congressional committees are planning to vote on this massive bill next week without a single hearing, without knowing the breadth of its impact, without knowing how many people will lose their health coverage.

Thorough democratic deliberations and a transparent process aren’t too much to ask. In fact, it’s the bare minimum. Working people have a lot at stake: their economic security and the health of their families. Their leaders ought to come out of hiding and shoot straight. Americans deserve better than a process shrouded in secrecy.

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