Island Forum | Reichert says health care reform needs incentives, choices

The rising cost of health care is a central challenge to individuals, families and businesses alike. No family should ever be forced to choose between putting food on the table or bringing a child to the doctor. Skyrocketing costs continue to force companies to lay off good workers just to stay in business. This should not be the case.

One way we can make health care more affordable to those who need help the most is by extending a combination of tax credits, deductions and subsidies that would provide the ability to manage their unique health care needs, to make decisions that are right for them, and to have the same control as middle- and upper-income families in America in making health care decisions.

Options worthy of consideration include:

Provide flexibility and control to lower-income families: Families already eligible for public coverage but not currently enrolled in a plan should have the right to use their current support to make cost-effective decisions. For those who qualify for public programs such as Medicaid, we should consider allowing them to use the amount that they receive each month to participate in a voucher program to purchase a private plan better suited to their needs.

Encourage smart saving: By improving health savings accounts and flexible spending arrangements as well as creating new tax benefits to offset the cost of long-term care premiums, we can create incentives to be prepared and to save now for future and long-term health care.

Alleviate caregiver burden: For those low- and modest-income Americans who are providing in-home care for a loved one, immediate substantial financial assistance would allow those individuals to claim the credit up front when insurance premiums are due rather than wait until the end of the year for reimbursement, removing a measure of financial strain.

Increase support for early and pre-retirees: We must consider bringing greater fairness to the tax code for those Americans ages 55 to 64 with low and modest incomes by extending tax benefits and savings for people who purchase health insurance on their own because they do not have employer-provided insurance.

Finally, it is also important that we address the unfair tax on health insurance premiums for the self-employed. Under the current tax code, corporations can deduct the cost of health insurance premiums as a business expense and forego payroll taxes on these costs. Self-employed workers, however, cannot take the same deduction and must pay an additional 15.3 percent tax on those premiums. While health insurance costs are a major concern of all employers, this tax provision unfairly forces the self-employed to pay an extra $1,850 annually.

To address this inequity, I have co-sponsored a bill that would assist 420,000 sole proprietors in Washington state and more than 21 million nationwide. This common-sense proposal levels the playing field for our country’s job creators at a critical time when our economy is struggling, small businesses are struggling, and families are more worried about the cost of health insurance.

We must continue to evaluate creative, meaningful solutions to lower costs while strengthening access to care for all Americans. Providing tax credits, deductions and subsidies to those who need help most is yet another important way that Congress can provide much-needed relief in its final health care legislation, and I will work to ensure such important provisions are included.

Congressman Dave Reichert is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and represents Washington’s Eighth Congressional District. Reichert serves on the House Ways and Means Committee.

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