This article has been saved to your Favorites!

House OKs ACA Tax Credit Expansion Under Veto Threat

By Stephen Cooper · June 29, 2020, 6:11 PM EDT

The U.S. House passed legislation Monday that would expand eligibility for the Affordable Care Act's health insurance premium tax credits, but Senate Republicans are unlikely to pass the bill, which the White House has threatened to veto.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act, or H.R. 1425, passed the House by a vote of 234-179, with the Democrats framing the legislation as a necessary step toward combating COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. 

The legislation would allow those earning more than the current limit of 400% of the federal poverty income level to qualify for health care tax credits under Internal Revenue Code Section 36B . The bill seeks to lower taxpayers' out-of-pocket costs by undoing the method of determining tax credit eligibility and premiums established by President Donald Trump's administration.

The proposal would also revise how subsidy eligibility is determined for workers whose health insurance obtained through their employers is considered too expensive, by accounting for more-costly family coverage rather than just self-only coverage. It would also prohibit states from receiving waivers for proposals that direct the ACA's tax credit subsidies toward so-called junk health insurance plans. Critics of these plans say they don't cover hospital stays or preexisting medical conditions.

In a statement of administrative policy, the Trump administration argued that Democrats are recycling past attempts to "send hundreds of billions of dollars to insurance companies" in order to fix problems with the ACA.

The legislation would undermine the creation of vaccines to treat the coronavirus in a misguided, bureaucratic effort to force Americans to maintain inefficient health care under the ACA, the statement said.

During floor debate, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said the legislation would ensure that taxpayers don't pay more than 8.5% of their income on midlevel plans in the ACA marketplace. Under current Internal Revenue Service guidelines, those earning at least 300% but not more than 400% of the federal poverty income level would pay no more than 9.86% of their income for health insurance.

The legislation would "expand tax credits to lower costs" for Americans who need health care coverage during the pandemic, Neal said.

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the ranking member on the House tax panel, called the legislation "partisan business as usual" when the nation needs lower-cost insurance coverage during the pandemic. The legislation "blocks Americans from buying legal, affordable short-term plans often used by small-business workers and Americans who are out of work or in between jobs," Brady said during floor debate.

The bill, which was introduced in 2019, was updated to ensure eligibility for ACA health coverage for those granted deferred action under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The House passage of the bill comes less than a week after the Trump administration filed a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to eliminate the ACA. Oral arguments in the case could happen as early as October, shortly before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

--Additional reporting by Jeff Overley. Editing by Neil Cohen.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

View comments