Krugman: Excise Tax Good Idea, But Fix The Details

Watch the video - it's short, and it sums up why Krugman so often has a fresh perspective on issues, rather than an insular academic bent. And spea

Watch the video - it's short, and it sums up why Krugman so often has a fresh perspective on issues, rather than an insular academic bent.

And speaking of, Krugman weighs in on the excise tax question in the healthcare reform bill, asking whether the tax-deductions for employer-provided health insurance should be limited:

The counter-arguments seem to run along three lines.

First, there’s the argument that many “Cadillac” plans aren’t really luxurious — they reflect genuinely high costs. That’s surely true. A flat dollar limit to tax deductibility has real problems. At the very least, the limit should reflect the same factors insurers will be allowed to take into account in setting premiums: age and region.

Second, there’s the argument that any reductions in premiums won’t be passed through into wages. I just don’t buy that. It’s true that the importance of changing premiums in past wage changes has been exaggerated by many people. But I’m enough of a card-carrying economist to believe that there’s a real tradeoff between benefits and wages.

Maybe it will help the plausibility of this case to notice that we’re not actually asking whether a fall in premiums would be passed on to workers. Even with the excise tax, premiums are likely to rise over time — just more slowly than they would have otherwise. So what we’re really asking is whether slowing the growth of premiums would reduce the squeeze rising health costs would otherwise have placed on wages. Surely the answer is yes.

He's right. When you put it that way, it's a lot more plausible.

The last argument is that this hurts unions which have traded off lower wages for better benefits. This would be a bigger issue than I think it is if the excise tax were going to kick in instantly. But it won’t, giving time to renegotiate those bargains. And bear in mind that this kind of renegotiation is exactly what the tax is supposed to accomplish.

A last general point: we really don’t know what it will take to rein in health costs, but that’s a reason to try every plausible idea that experts have proposed. Limiting tax deductibility is definitely one of those ideas.

Bottom line: the details of the excise tax should be fixed, but it’s on balance a good idea.

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