- - Sunday, May 10, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As the 2016 presidential race kicks off, candidates on both sides of the aisle are promising to stand up for the middle class. Voters deserve to know that anyone who champions Obamacare cannot honestly say she or he is also a champion of middle-class Americans.

The president’s health care law harms middle-class families in at least four ways, and even stands in the way of people trying to climb into the middle class.

First, the law raised or created 20 taxes that add up to $1 trillion over the next decade. Many of these taxes hit the middle class, like the penalty for anyone whose insurance does not satisfy Washington’s long list of mandates.

According to H&R Block, the average tax penalty people paid to the Internal Revenue Service for 2014 was $178. The penalties will more than double this year. People hurt by this tax penalty are not the poor, who are exempt. They are also not the rich, almost all of whom have generous health insurance. The penalty targets hardworking taxpayers who don’t want, don’t need or can’t afford the insurance the president says they must buy.

Other parts of the health care law cost taxpayers indirectly, through lower wages and higher prices. These include taxes on insurance plans, medical products and employers.

Second, the law included so many coverage mandates that the premiums skyrocketed. According to a study by the Manhattan Institute, the health care law increased the average price of individual market coverage by 49 percent its first year. Families getting insurance through work have seen their total premiums rise by nearly $3,500 since 2009.

Third, to keep rates from rising even higher, insurers gave Obamacare plans high deductibles. The average deductible for a family “silver” plan — the most common type — is a staggering $6,010. Average deductibles for slightly cheaper “bronze” plans are nearly twice as high.

There’s a fourth way people in the middle class get hit by the president’s health care law. Lower-income people get two kinds of financial assistance to help pay for insurance. Tax credits reduce their share of the premium, and cost-sharing subsidies lower their out-of-pocket expenses. The combined assistance is generous to people whose income is one to two times the poverty level. That’s up to about $32,000 for a married couple.

While middle-class families are being taxed to pay for these government subsidies, they don’t get help to make their own coverage affordable. That explains why only one in six Obamacare enrollees is in the middle class. If you don’t get a large Washington subsidy, the insurance just isn’t worth it. Of eligible people who don’t receive any assistance, only one out of every 50 bought Obamacare’s overpriced coverage.

Additionally, the health care law serves as a barrier for people trying to enter the middle class. The benefits decline rapidly as income increases. People earning one to two times the poverty level generally will lose about $250 in Obamacare benefits for every $1,000 increase in their income. Combining items such as regular income and payroll taxes, families in this income range can lose up to three-quarters of the extra money they earn.

Republicans are truly standing up for middle-class taxpayers. We are offering solutions that would give Americans access to the care they need, from the doctors they choose, at lower costs.

If the Supreme Court rules against the administration soon in the King v. Burwell case, we will finally have an opportunity to improve health care for all Americans. We will take action to return power to the states and to let people choose what works best for their families.

Americans will continue to hear candidates talk a lot about the struggles of the middle class until November 2016. Channeling my colleague, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Rodham Clinton recently complained that the “deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.” As long as Mrs. Clinton supports the president’s health care law, she will keep the deck stacked against middle-class Americans.

John Barrasso, a physician, is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Wyoming.

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