The Facts

On January 14, 2010, congressional leaders and the White House announced that they had reached a compromise with labor unions to proceed with the excise tax on so-called Cadillac, or high-cost, health plans. The excise tax was included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590) passed by the Senate. The provisions of that bill called for a 40 percent excise tax on insurance companies and plan administrators for any employer-sponsored health coverage whose value exceeded $8,500 per year for individuals and $23,000 for families. The tax was to take effect in 2013.

The compromise reached last week with the labor unions dictates that the thresholds for the tax will be slightly higher than in the Senate bill—$8,900 for individuals and $24,000 for families. These threshold levels would be increased based upon age, gender and geography to prevent the tax from disproportionately affecting people in high-cost groups. Additionally, starting in 2015, dental and vision coverage will not contribute to the thresholds. Most importantly for the labor unions and their employers, the new compromise exempts collectively bargained health plans and state and local government employees from the tax until 2018. This exception was made to accommodate for the fact that many unions negotiated better health benefits for their members at the expense of wage increases.

The tax is expected to raise $90 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. By contrast, the original Senate bill would have raised $149 billion over 10 years.

What’s at Stake

Businesses with high-cost health care plans hiring non-union employees would feel the effects as early as 2013 under this compromise proposal. Businesses with collectively bargained health care plans are likely to benefit from the exemption from the excise tax until 2018, which gives unions time to renegotiate their agreements with employers.

Steps to Consider

Businesses should evaluate their health care plans to determine to what extent they will be affected by this tax. Insurers should assess the impact of the tax on the coverage they offer.