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A Health Care Agenda for the New Congress Beyond “Repeal Obamacare” | Commentary

With Republicans now controlling both chambers of Congress, no law will come under more scrutiny than Obamacare.

Even though just about every Republican wants to scrap the law in its entirety, there is little chance of doing so with President Barack Obama wielding a veto pen. Yet, legislators have a great opportunity to roll back portions of the law that have a legitimate chance of being repealed — especially those that would improve our nation’s economic outlook and help people obtain the quality health care they need.

There are four parts of the Affordable Care Act that Congress should specifically target to accomplish this.

First, get rid of silly Obamacare taxes. Obamacare includes about 20 new taxes, all of which should be scrapped. But in crafting a politically feasible agenda, Congress should seek to end the ones that are particularly nonsensical and counterproductive. High on this list should be the tax on tanning services, dubbed the “Snooki tax” after the “Jersey Shore” star. It was inserted into the bill at the last minute to replace the equally ridiculous “bo-tax” on cosmetic surgery. Though the tanning tax was projected to generate about $200 million a year it’s actually brought in less than half that amount.

Joining it in the dustbin should be the “medicine cabinet tax,” which prevents individuals with Flexible Spending Accounts and Health Savings Accounts from dipping into these reserves to purchase over-the-counter drugs and health care supplies. This foolishly makes health care more expensive by discouraging the use of low-cost remedies.

Second, do not allow the individual mandate tax penalty to increase. The individual mandate took effect at the beginning of 2014, meaning those that failed to obtain an Obamacare-approved health insurance plan will be hit with a sizeable tax penalty when they file their taxes early in 2015. The penalty is either up to $285 per family or 1 percent of income — whichever is greater.

Short of full repeal, Congress could block the massive tax penalty increases still to come, and none too soon. The increases are scheduled to take place in 2015 and 2016 — at which time the financial damage for a family will reach a whopping $2,085 or 2.5 percent of income.

Third: Protect taxpayers from an insurance company bailout. Obamacare’s “risk corridor” program shields insurance companies from taking big losses if they don’t price their policies correctly. Under the law, taxpayers are potentially on the hook for the mistakes of large insurance companies. In the recently passed funding bill for 2015, Congress wisely took steps to temporarily block taxpayer funds from being used to bail out insurance companies. Now they need to extend this fix for the duration of the risk corridor program.

Finally, it’s time for Republicans and Democrats to come together and repeal the employer mandate, a major obstacle to economic growth and job creation. Even former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “I think it (the employer mandate provision) will be one of the first things to go.”

This provision, which requires all businesses with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance to full-time staff, affects a relatively small percentage of businesses, as the vast majority of larger employers already meet that requirement. But it creates a great deal of administrative and compliance headaches, which is why Obama delayed its implementation. Further, the mandate incentivizes employers to cut back hours for employees so as to avoid the 30-hour threshold that qualifies them as “full-time” under the law. House Republicans have already begun efforts to increase the 30-hour minimum up to 40, which is encouraging, but more can and should be done.

This is merely a sampling of ways that the new Congress could achieve some real victories in the fight to repeal Obamacare. To be sure, there are many divergent views on the best path toward repeal. Yet, congressional Republicans need to realize a simple fact: Obamacare is currently having a negative impact on the lives of many Americans. Therefore, they must work quickly to alleviate the burden imposed by this law in whatever way they can — even if that means taking a piecemeal and pragmatic approach.

Brandon Arnold is executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union.

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