Lobbyists Push GOP to Repeal Obamacare Fees in Tax Overhaul

Trade group is launching digital ad buys in key states

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, seen here with Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow wants to look at a possible repeal of the 2010 health care law's taxes as part of a larger tax package. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, seen here with Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow wants to look at a possible repeal of the 2010 health care law's taxes as part of a larger tax package. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted August 10, 2017 at 5:03am

The Republican effort to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law may have stalled, but lobbyists are pushing the GOP to continue to target the provisions the industry most despises: the law’s taxes.

House and Senate Republicans hope to push forward on a tax overhaul when Congress returns in September, an item they previously delayed in favor of health care. Repealing the 2010 health care law and its corresponding taxes would have helped simplify the GOP’s upcoming work, but those hopes were deflated when the Senate did not pass a repeal bill last month.

“I think that’s going to have to be part of it,” Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah said last week when asked if he plans to examine health care taxes after the August recess. The committee oversees taxation.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also said leadership would likely “look at everything,” including health care taxes.

But House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas has repeatedly said he is not interested in taking up the $1 trillion in taxes associated with the health care law, instead placing responsibility on the Senate to follow through on a repeal. That stance has not changed, according to a committee spokeswoman.

“As the chairman has said before, he believes the best way to get the Obamacare taxes out of the economy is through health care reform legislation like the American Health Care Act, which delivers relief from all of the Obamacare taxes,” spokeswoman Lauren Aronson told CQ Roll Call, referring to the House-passed GOP health care bill.

Lobbyists’ efforts

Medical device makers are still eyeing the year’s remaining agenda to repeal the 2.3 percent tax on the industry after a two-year holiday that Congress previously cleared expires, said Greg Crist, spokesman for the Advanced Medical Technology Association, or AdvaMed.

The tax is set to take effect again in January. AdvaMed is pushing for action through vehicles ranging from a tax overhaul package to a Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization.

The group is launching a small digital ad buy on Monday in key states such as Oregon, home of House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, and Ohio, home of Rep. Pat Tiberi, chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee. The ad campaign will also run in California, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

AdvaMed is also organizing a fly-in of CEOs for a “full court press” on Congress on Sept. 13. Crist said the level of support for ending the tax is high, noting that a repeal is in both a proposal from GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, as well as in a plan from the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus. Those measures came without much exertion on AdvaMed’s part, Crist said.

“That’s a good trend,” he said. “That’s a sign we’re making a good case.”

Insurers are pushing for a repeal of the health insurer fee, a tax that was suspended in 2017 but is set to take effect again next year. The fee is estimated to cost the industry $14 billion in 2018 and increase consumer premiums by about 3 percent — an increase already being factored into requested rate hikes around the country.

But the trade groups face challenges. Congress may not end up getting much traction on its tax proposal. And other issues, including some affecting health care, are consuming enormous attention, according to a lobbying source.

Other must-pass legislation on CHIP, the budget and the debt ceiling leave little time for a focus on health care taxes. One insurance executive said his company is eyeing another delay on the health insurance fee as the time crunch tightens in the fall. A December 2015 budget deal allowed for the previous delay.

Republicans will need a victory after their health care repeal effort collapsed in the Senate last month, the insurance executive said, especially if they have to vote for a market stabilization package to help shore up the insurance exchanges.

But even then, his confidence level on winning another delay on the health insurance tax is only “medium.”