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Nation/World

August 10, 2012

Health care law's tax hikes are coming: Who pays?

WASHINGTON — Who gets thumped by higher taxes in President Barack Obama’s health care law? The wealthiest 2 percent of Americans will take the biggest hit, starting next year. And the pain will be shared by some who aren’t so well off — people swept up in a hodgepodge of smaller tax changes that will help finance health coverage for millions in need.

For the vast majority of people, however, the health care law won’t mean sending more money to the IRS.

And roughly 20 million people eventually will benefit from tax credits that start in 2014 to help them pay insurance premiums.

The tax increases — plus a mandate that nearly everyone have health coverage — are helping make the law an election-year scorcher. Obama is campaigning on the benefits for the uninsured, women and young adults. His rival, Mitt Romney, and Republican lawmakers are vowing to repeal “Obamacare,” saying some health care reforms are needed but not at this cost.

Lots of the noise is about the financial consequences for people who decline to get coverage and businesses that don’t offer their workers an adequate health plan. Some 4 million individuals without insurance are expected to pay about $55 billion over eight years, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimates. Employers could be dinged an estimated $106 billion for failing to meet the mandate, which starts in 2014.

But that mandate money, whether it’s called taxes or penalties, is overwhelmed by other taxes, fees and shrunken tax breaks in the law. These other levies could top $675 billion over the next 10 years, under the CBO’s projections of how much revenue the government would lose if the law were repealed.

The biggest chunk is in new taxes on the nation’s top 2 percent of earners — some $318 billion over a decade.

Other major taxes are aimed at the health care industry, and some of that cost is sure to be passed along to consumers as higher prices.

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