Higher Medicare Taxes in the 2010 Health Reform Legislation
Volume 2010 / Issue 2
March 29, 2010
High-income taxpayers will be hit with two big tax hikes under the recently enacted health overhaul legislation: a tax increase on wages and a new levy on investments.
To help offset the cost of providing health insurance to millions of Americans, the new law imposes an additional 0.9% Medicare tax on wages above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. In addition, for higher-income households, the new law adds a 3.8% tax on unearned income, including interest, dividends, capital gains and other investment income.
Higher Medicare tax on wages and self-employment income. The Medicare tax is the primary source of financing for Medicare's hospital insurance trust fund, which pays hospital bills for beneficiaries who are 65 and older or disabled.
Under current law, wages are subject to a 2.9% Medicare tax. Workers and employers pay 1.45% each. Self-employed people pay both halves of the tax (but are allowed to deduct half of this amount for income tax purposes).
Unlike the payroll tax for Social Security, which applies to earnings up to an annual ceiling ($106,800 for 2010), the Medicare tax is levied on all of a worker's wages without limit.
Under the provisions of the new law, which take effect in 2013, most taxpayers will continue to pay the 1.45% Medicare tax, but single people earning more than $200,000 and married couples earning more than $250,000 will be taxed at an additional 0.9% (2.35% in total) on the excess over those base amounts. Self-employed persons will pay 3.8% on earnings over those thresholds.
It should be noted that the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds aren't indexed for inflation, so it is likely that more and more people will be subject to the higher tax in coming years.
Employers will collect the extra 0.9% on wages exceeding $200,000 just as they would withhold Medicare taxes and remit them to the IRS. However, companies won't be responsible for determining whether a worker's combined income with his or her spouse made them subject to the tax.
Instead, some employees will have to remit additional Medicare taxes when they file income tax returns, and some will get a tax credit for amounts overpaid. Married couples with combined incomes approaching $250,000 will have to keep tabs on both spouses' pay to avoid an unexpected tax bill.
Medicare tax extended to investments. Under current law, the Medicare tax only applies to wages and self-employment income. Beginning in 2013, a Medicare tax will, for the first time, be applied to investment income. A new 3.8% tax will be imposed on net investment income of single taxpayers with AGI above $200,000 and joint filers over $250,000 (unindexed).
Net investment income is interest, dividends, royalties, rents, gross income from a trade or business involving passive activities, and net gain from disposition of property (other than property held in a trade or business). Net investment income is reduced by the deductions that are allocable to that income. However, the new tax won't apply to income in tax-deferred retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans.
Because the new tax on investment income won't take effect for three years, that leaves more time for Congress and the IRS to tinker with it. So we can expect lots of refinements and “clarifications” between now and when the tax actually takes hold in 2013.
Individual mandate. The new law contains an “individual mandate”—a requirement that U.S. citizens and legal residents have qualifying health coverage or be subject to a tax penalty. Under the new law, those without qualifying health coverage will pay a tax penalty of the greater of: (a) $695 per year, up to a maximum of three times that amount ($2,085) per family, or (b) 2.5% of household income over the threshold amount of income required for income tax return filing. The penalty will be phased in according to the following schedule: $95 in 2014, $325 in 2015, and $695 in 2016 for the flat fee or 1.0% of taxable income in 2014, 2.0% of taxable income in 2015, and 2.5% of taxable income in 2016. Beginning after 2016, the penalty will be increased annually by a cost-of-living adjustment. Exemptions will be granted for financial hardship, religious objections, American Indians, those without coverage for less than three months, aliens not lawfully present in the U.S., incarcerated individuals, those for whom the lowest cost plan option exceeds 8% of household income, those with incomes below the tax filing threshold (in 2010 the threshold for taxpayers under age 65 is $9,350 for singles and $18,700 for couples), and those residing outside of the U.S.
Premium assistance tax credits for purchasing health insurance. The centerpiece of the health care legislation is its provision of tax credits to low and middle income individuals and families for the purchase of health insurance. For tax years ending after 2013, the new law creates a refundable tax credit (the “premium assistance credit”) for eligible individuals and families who purchase health insurance through an exchange. The premium assistance credit, which is refundable and payable in advance directly to the insurer, subsidizes the purchase of certain health insurance plans through an exchange. Under the provision, an eligible individual enrolls in a plan offered through an exchange and reports his or her income to the exchange. Based on the information provided to the exchange, the individual receives a premium assistance credit based on income and the IRS pays the premium assistance credit amount directly to the insurance plan in which the individual is enrolled. The individual then pays to the plan in which he or she is enrolled the dollar difference between the premium assistance credit amount and the total premium charged for the plan. For employed individuals who purchase health insurance through an exchange, the premium payments are made through payroll deductions.
The premium assistance credit will be available for individuals and families with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level ($43,320 for an individual or $88,200 for a family of four, using 2009 poverty level figures) that are not eligible for Medicaid, employer sponsored insurance, or other acceptable coverage. The credits will be available on a sliding scale basis. The amount of the credit will be based on the percentage of income the cost of premiums represents, rising from 2% of income for those at 100% of the federal poverty level for the family size involved to 9.5% of income for those at 400% of the federal poverty level for the family size involved.
Floor on medical expenses deduction raised from 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 10%. Under current law, taxpayers can take an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses for regular income tax purposes only to the extent that those expenses exceed 7.5% of the taxpayer's AGI. The new law raises the floor beneath itemized medical expense deductions from 7.5% of AGI to 10%, effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2012. The AGI floor for individuals age 65 and older (and their spouses) will remain unchanged at 7.5% through 2016.
Limit reimbursement of over-the-counter medications from HSAs, FSAs, and MSAs. The new law excludes the costs for over-the-counter drugs not prescribed by a doctor from being reimbursed through a health reimbursement account (HRA) or health flexible savings accounts (FSAs) and from being reimbursed on a tax-free basis through a health savings account (HSA) or Archer Medical Savings Account (MSA), effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2010.
Increased penalties on nonqualified distributions from HSAs and Archer MSAs. The new law increases the tax on distributions from a health savings account or an Archer MSA that are not used for qualified medical expenses to 20% (from 10% for HSAs and from 15% for Archer MSAs) of the disbursed amount, effective for distributions made after Dec. 31, 2010.
Limit health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs) to $2,500. An FSA is one of a number of tax-advantaged financial accounts that can be set up through a cafeteria plan of an employer. An FSA allows an employee to set aside a portion of his or her earnings to pay for qualified expenses as established in the cafeteria plan, most commonly for medical expenses but often for dependent care or other expenses. Under current law, there is no limit on the amount of contributions to an FSA. Under the new law, however, allowable contributions to health FSAs will capped at $2,500 per year, effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2012. The dollar amount will be indexed for inflation after 2013.
Dependent coverage in employer health plans. Effective on the enactment date, the new law extends the general exclusion for reimbursements for medical care expenses under an employer-provided accident or health plan to any child of an employee who has not attained age 27 as of the end of the tax year. This change is also intended to apply to the exclusion for employer-provided coverage under an accident or health plan for injuries or sickness for such a child. A parallel change is made for VEBAs and 401(h) accounts. Also, self-employed individuals are permitted to take a deduction for the health insurance costs of any child of the taxpayer who has not attained age 27 as of the end of the tax year.
Excise tax on indoor tanning services. The new law imposes a 10% excise tax on indoor tanning services. The tax, which will be paid by the individual on whom the tanning services are performed but collected and remitted by the person receiving payment for the tanning services, will take effect July 1, 2010.
Liberalized adoption credit and adoption assistance rules. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2009, the adoption tax credit is increased by $1,000, made refundable, and extended through 2011 The adoption assistance exclusion is also increased by $1,000.