The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation said on Thursday that repealing the individual mandate would count as a tax hike on lower-income Americans by 2021.
How can repealing a mandate be a tax hike? Recall that the mandate imposes a tax on most Americans if they decide that health insurance is unaffordable. In other words, removing the mandate means that Americans will no longer have to choose between paying a tax to Uncle Sam or paying premiums to one of Uncle Sam’s approved insurance companies.
Under most common sense definitions, that’s a tax cut. But Washington, D.C. budgetary projections are largely immune to common sense or reality-based forecasts.
According to the nonpartisan committee, many lower-income Americans will choose not to buy insurance once the mandate is removed. In other words, they will have concluded that the insurance they have available to them–even with generous government subsidies that are not cut by the Senate bill that would repeal the mandate–are not worth the price.
But since they are not buying insurance, they also are not getting the tax subsidies. So, according to the JCT, their taxes are going up–even though their take-home pay would be increasing. That’s because the JCT does not count having to buy insurance under penalty of law as a tax. But it does count not getting a subsidy as a tax increase.
Under the JCT’s upside down view of the world, Americans earnings $30,000 or below would therefore be paying higher taxes than they would if tax reform fails.
This makes little sense. If an American worker would come out ahead by buying health insurance and using the refundable tax credit, surely most will take that option even if no longer mandated. If not, the worker will choose against buying insurance, effectively making the end of the mandate a tax cut.
“This isn’t a tax hike at all: it’s a voluntary foregoing of a tax credit,” Avik Roy writes at Forbes magazine.
Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn) released a report from the JCT Thursday showing the effect of the Senate bill excluding this nonsensical approach to the individual mandate. Sure enough, it projects tax cuts for every income bracket.