2013: The Year of Taxes

December 27th, 2012
in econ_news, syndication

taxkeyboardSMALLEconintersect:  Whether the U.S. goes over the fiscal cliff or not, 2013 is a year when taxes will be rising.  While everyone has been focusing on the pathetic Punch and Judy Show imitation over the "negotiations" to resolve tax and spending disagreements and a possible "Grand Bargain" to satisfy the interests of wealthy few, other tax increases have been simply waiting for the new year to arrive.  Most of the new taxes are aimed at offsetting burgeoning healthcare costs that keep driving up what the government spends on Medicare, Medicaid and Veterans' care.

Follow up:

Taxes increases that have no relationship to the fiscal cliff include:

  • There is a new 3.8% tax on investment income for individuals making more than $200,000 or couples above $250,000.

  • An additional 0.9% Medicare payroll tax will come into effect for incomes over $200,000 (couples above $250,000).

  • Medical device sales to doctors and hospitals will be subject to a new federal sales tax of 2.3%.

  • An indirect tax increase because of lower limits ($2,500, indexed) for medical flexioble spending accounts.  The former limit was $5,000.

Additional new taxes kick-in in 2014, again related to healthcare:

  • Annual fees paid by insurance companies which will amount to $8 billion in the first year.
  • Penalties of $2,000 per employee (above 30) for companies with 50 or more employees which do not offer healthcare insurance if just one of the employees receives government subsidized coverage.

Other changes in the tax code that may come up for consideration in 2013 include the tax free status of employer paid healthcare plans.  From Ricardo Alonzo-Zaldivar, Associated Press:

...about half of Americans benefit from the tax-free status of employer health insurance. Workers pay no income or payroll taxes on what their employer contributes for health insurance, and in most cases on their own share of premiums as well.

It's the single biggest tax break the government allows, outstripping the mortgage interest deduction, the deduction for charitable giving and other better-known benefits. If the value of job-based health insurance were taxed like regular income, it would raise nearly $150 billion in 2013, according to congressional estimates. By comparison, wiping away the mortgage interest deduction would bring in only about $90 billion.

"If you are looking to raise revenue to pay for tax reform, that is the biggest pot of money of all," said Martin Sullivan, chief economist with Tax Analysts, a nonpartisan publisher of tax information.

It's hard to see how lawmakers can avoid touching health insurance if they want to eliminate loopholes and curtail deductions so as to raise revenue and lower tax rates. Congress probably wouldn't do away with the health care tax break, but limit it in some form. Such limits could be keyed to the cost of a particular health insurance plan, the income level of taxpayers or a combination.

Many economists think some kind of limit would be a good thing because it would force consumers to watch costs, and that could help keep health care spending in check. Obama's health law took a tentative step toward limits by imposing a tax on high-value health insurance plans. But that doesn't start until 2018.

In addition to tax increases to offset rising government expenditures for healthcare, retirees will be exposed to higher Medicare premiums.  A change to the Medicare law under President G. W. Bush is ratcheting up premiums paid by higher income Medicare participants  According to Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press, the implementation of the higher premium provisions will be expanded gradually until it applies to the top 25% of incomes among Medicare participants.  Currently the law applies to those with incomes above $85,000 ($170,000 for couples).  The plan to expand the reach of the premium surcharges invovles not indexing the income numbers for inflation.  As of 2013 only about 2 million are impacted by the "income test" but eventually the number could reach 12 million or more.

There are also escalating premiums for Medicare Part D based on income.  Lower income participants get 75% of the plan cost paid by the government.  The premiums scale at higher incomes so that premiums eventually reach 80% of cost for those over $214,000 a year ($428,000 for couples).

John Lounsbury


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