- - Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The issue of health care issue is maddeningly complex. The politics of health care are even more challenging.

No matter where you are on the ideological spectrum, all Americans should agree that the 2018 Health Insurance Tax (HIT), which just went into effect and is already hammering small businesses and seniors, should be repealed.

In an election year, there are a myriad of reasons for Capitol Hill to not do something. But with so many members up for reelection, repealing a costly, poorly conceived tax increase should be broadly popular.

How did this happen in the first place?

Congress allowed HIT, a hidden tax inserted in the original Obamacare legislation, to go into effect on January 1. Democrats should note that even President Obama recognized that this tax, part of his namesake law, was both harmful and unnecessary. Accordingly, Mr. Obama signed a bill to delay the tax for the entire 2017 calendar year. However, that reprieve has now expired and lawmakers, distracted by a desire to get home for the holidays and the usual partisan blame game, let the tax hike on seniors and small businesses go into effect at a time when Republicans have unified control of Congress.

Congress now has a second chance to make this right. They can again roll back the Health Insurance Tax for 2018 — even after it has taken effect.

The fix is simple: Pass a bill delaying the tax again and then also demand that insurers send rebates to consumers.

We know Congress is busy with pressing deadlines: the spending bill, the need to deal with immigration and the “Dreamers,” and a possible major infrastructure spending plan this year.

But lawmakers should also find a little time, energy and focus to help seniors and small businesses avoid a costly and counterproductive tax.

I would think that news stories detailing rebates issued by insurance companies to consumers would be political gold for members of Congress who will soon be facing voters in the midterm elections. In fact, it would be a powerful story following the wave of news surrounding employee bonuses and raises announced after the tax reform bill was signed into law.

Rolling back the HIT this year has broad bipartisan support. Republicans can achieve their goal of reducing taxes on seniors and small businesses. Democrats can achieve their goal of reducing premiums in the Obamacare exchanges. It’s a rare win-win.

If Congress fails to act decisively, then seniors and small businesses — core constituencies of the Republican Party — will be among those who are hit the hardest.

According to the international management consulting company Oliver Wyman, the HIT will mean premium increases of $510 per couple for seniors on Medicare Advantage this year. On a fixed income, that’s a significant amount of money. The consultant firm found that small businesses will see premiums for family coverage increase by $523 per employee this year. Those costs add up fast for cash-strapped small businesses who struggle to make payroll.

How will this affect the larger economy? Researchers at the National Federation of Independent Business believe the HIT could reduce private sector employment by up to 262,000 jobs by 2022, with 59 percent of those job losses coming directly from small business.

Republicans tried to repeal and replace Obamacare and failed in 2017. It’s unclear, even with the individual mandate to buy health insurance repealed, whether another crack at the health law will be possible in 2018. Waiting the roll back the HIT in a comprehensive bill needlessly harms innocent victims for a payoff that may never come.

Blocking the HIT makes good sense economically and politically. It just requires political will.

The urgency on this issue is significant. The solution is within our grasp.

Seniors and small businesses are watching. Voters are watching.

Will Congress act?

Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran. His national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” may be found on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and on the web at MackOnPolitics.com.

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