Proposal would tax health benefits

By David Skolnick

Only elected officials from the Valley are unsure of where they stand on the proposal.

The possibility of the federal government’s taxing some employer-provided health benefits to help pay for an overhaul of the health-care system isn’t sitting well with labor officials.

“Every time you turn around someone’s hitting you in the head with a shovel,” said Jim Graham, president of the United Auto Workers Local 1112 at the Lordstown General Motors complex, about the proposal.

It was less than a year ago that Graham’s union had 3,700 members. That number is now at 1,300.

The possibility that those remaining would have to pay additional tax dollars for their health plan bothers Graham.

“We’re about taxed out,” he said. “What’s next?”

The health-care reform proposal, to be unveiled this week, would cost $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years, with much of the cost paying to cover about 46 million without health insurance.

U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said the tax would likely be imposed on those who receive health-care benefits that cost more than $13,000 a year for a family of four and be phased in over a number of unspecified years, according to various media reports.

That tax would generate about $420 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, a bipartisan U.S. House-Senate committee.

Brad Calhoun, president of the Boardman Education Association, a union that represents 320 teachers in that school district, said he doesn’t see how anyone could support this plan.

“How could they put that burden on working America?” he said. “They want to hit middle America up again when we need the most help.”

“Our members do not support taxing of health-care benefits provided by employers as means for funding health-care reform,” said Anthony Caldwell, spokesman for the Service Employee International Union District 1199. The union represents about 35,000 workers, primarily in the healthcare public service fields, in Ohio and more than 5,000 in the Mahoning Valley.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, is against taxing employer-related health-care benefits, but doesn’t completely rule it out as a possibility.

“The process is in the very early stages, and [Ryan] would like to see a health reform package that does not include them,” said Brad Bauman, the congressman’s spokesman.

Ryan’s congressional district includes most of Trumbull County and a portion of Mahoning County.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson of St. Clairsville, D-6th, hasn’t committed one way or the other on taxing health-care benefits.

“The Congressional Budget Office has presented more than 100 financing options to members of Congress,” said Wilson, who represents all of Columbiana County and a portion of Mahoning County. “My colleagues and I are carefully examining the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Avon, is also reviewing all the proposals, but “has serious concerns about what taxing health-care benefits could mean for middle-class families,” said Meghan Dubyak, his spokeswoman.

U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich, a Republican from Cleveland, said, “We must keep all options on the table and work across party lines to move forward.”

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