Obamacare's 'Cool Calculator,' Part 2: The 'Wedding Tax'
In a September 13 email, Erin Hannigan of Organizing for Action's "Truth Team" bragged about a "cool calculator from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation" showing how Obamacare's "tax credits" work, and encouraged everyone to "share it on Facebook or Twitter."
Obamacare's opponents, especially those who advocate defunding it before it goes live, need to follow Hannigan's suggestion, and even embed it on their websites and blogs. That's because what Kaiser's "cool calculator" really does is expose the statist health care regime's three ugliest financial elements.
I covered two of them in my previous PJM column. The first is that, when combined with Uncle Sam's current income and payroll tax regimes, the gradual expiration as income increases of Obamacare's "tax credits" — which Kaiser's model schizophrenically describes as "government tax credit subsidies" — will raise the portion of income taken by the government for each additional dollar of earnings to between one-third and one-half, effectively taxing most American workers at marginal rates usually limited to the planet's highest income earners. The second is that its subsidy "cliffs" will cause middle-aged single people and married couples making as little as $45,960 and $62,040, respectively, to lose over $10,000 in subsidies — or "tax credits," in the preferred language of OFA and the U.S. Supreme Court's — when they earn just one additional dollar. These bugs, which jubilant "progressives" as seen above apparently believe are features, will crush incentives to work and to otherwise pursue financial self-improvement.
The third tragic outcome of Obamacare is what it will do to marriages and families. In January 2010, two months before Obamacare's passage, the estimable Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation gave the impact a name: the "wedding tax."
To illustrate, let's start with the 60-year-old married couple with no children whose situation I illustrated at the end of Part 1:
If they have identical earnings totaling $65,000, which will usually net down to $50,000 or below after all income and payroll taxes, their Obamacare exchange Silver Plan premium next year with the same earnings will be $16,382, or about one-third of what used to be their take-home pay. (And they call it the "Affordable Care Act"?)
What can this couple do? Well, they could decide to earn a few thousand dollars less, which will negate the five-figure premium hit. Encouraging ordinarily willing workers to put in less effort isn't good in any economy, but especially not this one. But if either spouse's earnings are unpredictable or hard to precisely track, they could still "mess up" and get socked with a premium they can't afford.
The "easiest" solution would be to avoid the "wedding tax" entirely by getting divorced while still living together. Here's what would happen if they make that choice:
Instead of facing an exorbitant premium increase once their combined earnings hits $62,041 if they were to stay married, each cohabiting adult can earn up to $45,960 before Obamacare's "tax credit"-free premiums kick in. Their annual after-tax savings at age 60 if they shack up and keep their individual earnings between $31,021 and $45,960 will range from $7,650 to over $11,000. The annual savings will slightly increase every year until Medicare kicks in at age 65. That kind of money can buy a lot of gifts for the grandkids.
But the grandkids will also face the prospect of seeing their moms and dads divorce because of Obamacare.
Let's look at the situation of a 40-year-old couple with two children. The spouses' annual earnings are $70,000 and $23,000, respectively:
The couple's annual unsubsidized premium while married is $11,547 (OFA's vaunted "tax credits" disappear at $92,401 for married couples with two children). But if they divorce and shack up while giving custody of both children to the lower-earning spouse, their combined annual premiums, at $4,317, will be over $7,200 lower. That's over $600 a month. As was the case in the previous example, the savings from divorce will gradually increase every year. Parents will be torn between doing what Western civilization has considered morally right for millennia and their children's financial well-being as never before.
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There may be contrary examples, but in all of my research into the inner workings of Obamacare as embodied in Kaiser's model, I was unable to find a single instance where staying married led to a lower net healthcare premium compared to divorcing and living together. Clearly, many couples who are considering marriage, especially after several years of seeing formerly married couples regress to cohabiting, will look at Obamacare's "wedding tax" and say, "Never mind." The effect on society will be incalculable, and certainly not for the good.
As designed, Obamacare threatens to turn cohabiting while functionally living as if married into a national sport. Paraphrasing what I noted at my home blog in March 2010, the following grim scenario appears likely:
The law in many if not most states says that you can’t cohabit indefinitely and still claim not to be married.
Because the government will be starved for money, the Internal Revenue Service will task itself with finding cohabiting couples and divorced couples still living together who are “illegally” claiming that they are not married for health care subsidy purposes.
Those caught and punished by the IRS carrying out its new role as the de facto “marriage police” could get hit with multi-year bills for undeserved "tax credits" running into tens of thousands of dollars.
16,500 new IRS agents won’t be anywhere near the number needed to enforce the Obamacare regime.
Open question: What kind of advice will the program's navigators give to couples in sticker shock over their Obamacare exchange premiums? Will they counsel divorce, or will doing so be considered aiding and abetting tax evasion?
I find it utterly amazing and more than a little disheartening that the arguments made by Rector and yours truly for so long have gained so little traction, even among Obamacare's most ardent opponents. Principled conservatives with bigger megaphones should not have waited this long to make these critical financial and family values arguments. But here we are, and we're running out of time.
It's likely that Obamacare's implementation, no matter how expensive, incompetent, riddled with fraud and cronyism, compromised by privacy invasions and identity thefts, and disrespectful of Americans' religious consciences it turns out to be, will be irreversible. To my knowledge, no other major entitlement program in U.S. history, no matter how unworthy or fiscally ruinous, has ever been fully repealed once it began — which is why Obamacare cannot be allowed to take effect.
If the results presented in this and the previous column aren't enough to persuade Republicans and conservatives that it's "now or never" time to defund this madness, what ever will be?
(Artwork atop post based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)