Progressive or Regressive? A Second Look at the Tax Exemption for Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Premiums

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The major argument for capping the exemption of health insurance benefits from income tax is that doing so will generate significant revenue that can be used to finance an expansion of health coverage. This analysis finds that given the state of insurance markets and current variations in premiums, limiting the current exemption could adversely affect individuals who are already at high risk of losing their health coverage. Evidence suggests that capping the exemption for employment-based health insurance could disproportionately affect workers in small firms, older workers, and wage-earners in industries with high expected claims costs. To avoid putting many families at increased health and financial risk, and to avoid undermining employer-sponsored group coverage, any consideration of a cap would have to be combined with coverage for all, changes in insurance market rules, and shared responsibility for financing. The major argument for capping the exemption of health insurance benefits from income tax is that doing so will generate significant revenue that can be used to finance an expansion of health coverage. This analysis finds that given the state of insurance markets and current variations in premiums, limiting the current exemption could adversely affect individuals who are already at high risk of losing their health coverage. Evidence suggests that capping the exemption for employment-based health insurance could disproportionately affect workers in small firms, older workers, and wage-earners in industries with high expected claims costs. To avoid putting many families at increased health and financial risk, and to avoid undermining employer-sponsored group coverage, any consideration of a cap would have to be combined with coverage for all, changes in insurance market rules, and shared responsibility for financing.

Publication Details

Publication Date:
May 8, 2009
Authors:
Cathy Schoen, Kristof Stremikis, Sara R. Collins, Karen Davis
Citation:

C. Schoen, K. Stremikis, S. Collins, and K. Davis, Progressive or Regressive? A Second Look at the Tax Exemption for Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Premiums, The Commonwealth Fund, May 2009.

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