ObamaCare turned six last week, and no one was celebrating–least of all small businesses and nonprofits. That’s because the tax credits (aka taxpayer subsidies) that were supposed to help them manage employer provided-healthcare turned out to be a wet noodle.
In 2014, just 181,000 employers claimed the Small Employer Health Insurance Tax Credit, according to a watchdog report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). This is far below the 1.4 million to 4 million small business employers that the GAO and others estimated would utilize this credit to lower (for them, not the taxpayer!) the rising costs of providing healthcare thanks to ObamaCare.
That does accrue a savings for taxpayers. In 2014, actual claims for the credit increased to $541 million from $511 million the year prior. However, in 2010 claims totaled $468 million suggesting that, increasingly, small employers are dropping their usage of the tax credit. Furthermore, these claims are a drop in the bucket of what was expected. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that claims for the credits would have been about $2 billion.
The credit is generally available to eligible small business employers and non-profits with fewer than 25 full-time employees at average annual wages below a cap. The cap for 2016 is $51,800. The small employers must cover at least 50 percent of the cost of each employee's self-only health insurance coverage to qualify for the tax credit. The credit is a percentage of the employer’s contributions to its employee’s health insurance premiums – in essence, another way to make monthly payments affordable. However the credit fluctuates based on several factors including how many people the employer employs, average wages, and whether they are tax exempt.
That’s not the only reason small employers aren’t hot on this tax credit. Accounting Today reports:
The maximum amount of the credit does not appear to be a large enough incentive for employers to offer or maintain insurance. In addition, few small employers qualify for the maximum credit amount. For those employers that do claim the credit, the credit amount “phases out” to zero as employers employ up to 25 full-time equivalent employees at higher wages.
The amount of the credit is also limited if premiums paid by an employer are more than the average premiums for the small group market in the employer's state. Furthermore, the credit can only be claimed for two consecutive years after 2013. The GAO also found that the cost and complexity involved in claiming the tax credit was significant, deterring small employers from claiming it. Many small businesses have also reported that they were unaware of the credit. Even so, the Internal Revenue Service had been taking steps since April 2010 to raise awareness about the credit and reduce the burden on taxpayers by offering tools to help taxpayers determine eligibility for the credit.
Guess what the Administration’s solution to the low usage of the small employer tax credit is? If you guessed more money and further relaxing eligibility, you’re right. That’s always the solution of big government supporters.
In this case, they propose increasing the amount of the credit, expanding the size of eligible employers, altering the phase-out rules, and allowing the credit to be claimed in more than two consecutive years. These solutions will come at an increased cost to us taxpayers, but who cares about that?
When a GAO director released the results of this report in his testimony before a congressional panel, one conservative congressman vocalized what we’ve been thinking:
“Like so many other parts of Obamacare, this was another case of over-promise and under-deliver,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp×, the chairman of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax and Capital Access, said in his opening statement. “Multiple assessments, both during initial implementation and now today, years down the road, have made it abundantly clear – the credit scheme is so cumbersome and poorly designed that it is largely ineffective.”
Perhaps more telling of the hardship that ObamaCare’s rising costs on healthcare was from a small employer himself who explained that the credit did nothing to help him tackle rising costs:
“Most tax credits are designed to change behavior; Our company had always provided health-care insurance, but because of the increase in premiums, we may not be able to continue to do so due to escalating costs.” he said. “Because we are ineligible, this tax credit does not help me in any way to provide affordable health coverage to my employees now. And unfortunately, it will not encourage me to do so in the future – if and when – I may be forced to stop offering insurance because of prohibitively escalating costs.”
Six years later and the failings of this fundamentally flawed healthcare bill continue to emerge. Central planning cannot cover every need and doesn’t account for unintended consequences that often wipe out the benefit delivered – if any. As in this case, those who should’ve been helped are precisely the ones being harmed.