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Int J Health Serv. 2016;46(2):325-30.

The “Cadillac Tax” on Health Benefits in the United States Will Hit the Middle Class Hardest: Refuting the Myth That Health Benefit Tax Subsidies Are Regressive.


U.S. employment-based health benefits are exempt from income and payroll taxes, an exemption that provided tax subsidies of $326.2 billion in 2015. Both liberal and conservative economists have denounced these subsidies as “regressive” and lauded a provision of the Affordable Care Act—the Cadillac Tax—that would curtail them. The claim that the subsidies are regressive rests on estimates showing that the affluent receive the largest subsidies in absolute dollars. But this claim ignores the standard definition of regressivity, which is based on the share of income paid by the wealthy versus the poor, rather than on dollar amounts. In this study, we calculate the value of tax subsidies in 2009 as a share of income for each income quintile and for the wealthiest Americans. In absolute dollars, tax subsidies were highest for families between the 80th and 95th percentiles of family income and lowest for the poorest 20%. However, as shares of income, subsidies were largest for the middle and fourth income quintiles and smallest for the wealthiest 0.5% of Americans. We conclude that the tax subsidy to employment-based insurance is neither markedly regressive, nor progressive. The Cadillac Tax will disproportionately harm families with (2009) incomes between $38,550 and $100,000, while sparing the wealthy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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