Health Center News

Sticker Shock

You think you’re paying a lot now? U.S. health care spending will almost double to $4.1 trillion in 2016 and account for 20% of every dollar spent, or, roughly, $1 of every $5 spent in the United States by the end of the decade, according to a new report. President Bush has seized on these new numbers to make the case for overhauling the tax code. He says right now the system discriminates against people who buy their insurance in the individual market; they don’t get the same tax advantages as those who get insurance through their employers. “When it comes to health care, everyone should get the same tax breaks,” he said in his weekly radio address. The President wants to treat health insurance contributions as income, which would cause workers’ taxable wages to shoot up dramatically. But, as one health expert warns, Bush might be proposing a tax on those who can least afford it. “One of the problems with the [Bush] proposal is that it equates having a wealthy plan, or having a good plan, with being a wealthy person… Some of the workers who have very good plans today are teachers, nurses and health care workers, assembly line workers, municipal employees. These are people who make relatively modest livings. But a good chunk of their compensation is in the form of their health benefits. And, therefore, clamping down on the tax benefit of a wealthy plan may, in fact, have a very serious effect on workers who can least afford it,” said Sara Rosenbaum, Chair of the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University’s School of Public Health, during a recent interview on NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.