- - Sunday, November 22, 2015


Obamacare discriminates against middle-class families who buy their own health insurance, but protects tax breaks for corporations. How is this fair?

Any presidential candidate should be forced to answer this question: “Shouldn’t middle-class families get the same tax breaks as corporations when they buy health insurance?”

As the race for the White House heats up, we should put partisanship aside long enough for the candidates to agree on this simple issue. If corporations deserve a tax break when they buy health insurance, middle-class families deserve one too.

On the left, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is praised when he attacks corporations. Hillary Clinton’s economic plan aims to raise middle-class incomes. Shouldn’t they both support a simple tax break that gives families the same rights as corporate America?

On the right, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and so on, say their aim is to grow the middle-class. Central to their plan is the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Shouldn’t their “fix” put middle-class families on equal ground with corporations when it comes to buying health insurance?

Ultimately, if these candidates won’t take a position on how to make health insurance more affordable, anything else they say is meaningless rhetoric.

This issue can’t wait for a new president, because the third Obamacare enrollment period started on November 1, and, for the third year in a row, middle-class families are facing double-digit price increases if they don’t qualify for an Obamacare subsidy.

This is bad news for those without subsidies as well as for many who do receive subsidies. Why? Because these price hikes impact families receiving subsidies when they “accidentally” earn too much money.

H&R Block estimated last year that 65 percent of those who received a subsidy wound up sending money back to the IRS at tax time because they had earned too much.

No, that’s not a typo. The law punishes middle-class families when they get an unexpected raise.

They’re punished like this because Obamacare’s complicated subsidy system requires families to forecast their income for the coming year. If their forecast is off by just a few hundred dollars, their entire subsidy can disappear.

What that means in the real world is that a family of three living in Nashville with $80,000 in income will qualify for about $1,400 in subsidies. But if they “accidentally” earn an extra $200 next year, their entire $1,400 subsidy goes back to the IRS.

This is the law’s infamous “subsidy cliff,” which triggers the IRS’s “clawback penalty” that hit two-thirds of Obamacare enrollees last year.

Can’t we do better? Can’t we extend corporate-style tax breaks to middle-class families who buy their health insurance?

Campaign rhetoric about raising middle-class incomes is meaningless if our next president won’t pledge to give individuals and families who buy their own health insurance the same tax breaks enjoyed by billion-dollar corporations.

I have drafted a common-sense, three-step plan to make health insurance more affordable for middle-income families. It starts by giving them the same rights that corporations enjoy by allowing them to deduct their health insurance premiums from their taxes. The plan is posted on my company’s website.

Gary Lauer is chief executive officer and chairman of the board of directors of eHealth, Inc.

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