Bush Considers Proposal To Tax Some Employer Health Benefits
President Bush has considered a proposal that "likely would cap some taxpayers' ability to exclude employer-provided health care from their income, as part of an effort to broaden availability of health care insurance," the Wall Street Journal reports. The federal government currently provides tax exemptions for all employer-sponsored health benefits, a policy that will cost an estimated $900 billion between 2006 and 2010 when combined with related provisions.
According to the Journal, the proposal would tax "gold-plated" executive health plans and could affect "some rank-and-file union members with particularly generous benefits." The proposal would use the additional revenue to fund tax credits to help lower-income residents purchase health insurance, state coverage pools for lower-income residents and small businesses, or both.
In addition to the proposal, Bush this month in his State of the Union address likely will announce plans to expand state health insurance pools and health savings accounts as part of an effort to expand coverage and reduce costs, according to Republicans close to the White House.
White House spokesperson Tony Fratto declined to comment on specific proposals that Bush has considered. He said, "The president has said that for all Americans, we must confront the rising cost of care, strengthen the doctor-patient relationship and help people afford the insurance coverage they need."
Democrats likely would oppose the proposal to tax some employer-sponsored health benefits over concerns about "further undermining the market for employer-provided coverage and driving up costs for those who remain in the system," the Journal reports. According to the Journal, Democrats likely would base their support of the proposal on whether the "Bush administration backs up its rhetoric with money" to address the issue of the uninsured, with a few Democrats "willing to encourage a shift from employer-provided plans to state-sponsored ones."
A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday plans to introduce a bill that would provide grants to states to develop proposals to address the issue of the uninsured (McKinnon/Solomon, Wall Street Journal, 1/16).
In other congressional news, House Republicans appear to "have suddenly fractured in their new role as members of the minority," as 37 voted for a bill to reduce restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and 24 voted for legislation that would require the HHS secretary to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies on prices for medications under the Medicare prescription drug benefit, the New York Times reports (Hulse, New York Times, 1/14).
Rep. Jo Anne Emerson (R-Mo.), who voted for both bills, said that, under House Democratic leadership, she is "free to represent my constituents exactly as they want me to be" (Weisman, Washington Post, 1/14).
Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders "say they are committed to governing from the center," the Times reports.
Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House majority whip, said that he has sought to expand the discussion about values-based issues to include health insurance for low-income children and other economic concerns (Toner, New York Times, 1/16).
NPR's "Talk of the Nation" on Friday included a discussion on how Congress will address issues related to science, such as federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Guests on the program included Bill Broad, senior writer for the Times; and Michael Lubell, chair and professor of the Department of Physics at City College of New York (Flato, "Talk of the Nation," NPR, 1/12).
Audio of the segment is available online.