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Congress passes omnibus bill containing Cadillac tax delay

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A $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, which includes a provision to delay the controversial “Cadillac tax” on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans, passed both houses of Congress on Friday.

The bill, if signed into law by President Barack Obama, would delay the Cadillac tax by two years, pushing its start date to 2020 from 2018.

The House of Representatives on Friday passed the bill on a 316-113 vote, while the U.S. Senate passed it 65-33.

The president is expected to sign the bill.

Sources say delaying the Cadillac tax, which would impose a 40% excise tax on the portion of group health plan premiums that exceed $10,200 for single coverage and $27,500 for family coverage, is a step toward a full repeal.

The delay also would provide relief to employers who have been taking aggressive measures to keep rising health care costs below the tax thresholds. Sources say it will give those employers more time to find better cost-management solutions.

“When people really look at the so-called Cadillac tax, they see what a bad deal it is for employers and employees,” Washington-based American Benefits Council President James A. Klein said Friday in a statement. “A two-year delay helps us continue building momentum for repeal.”

“Congress has done the right thing to delay a 40% tax that would make employer-sponsored health insurance more difficult for workers to afford and threaten patient access to potentially lifesaving care,” Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Inc. and a member of the Alliance to Fight the 40 — a coalition of employers that has urged for the Cadillac tax's repeal — said in a statement.

“Employers should not be penalized for providing generous benefits to their employees, and this delay is a step toward righting that wrong,” David French, senior vice president for government relations with the New York-based National Retail Federation, said in another statement.

Opponents of the excise tax argue that because the tax is tied to general inflation and does not reflect actual health cost growth, even employers without rich “Cadillac” plans will eventually be subject to the tax. Many employers also cite the tax as one reason they must shift more of the cost burden of paying for health coverage onto employees.

According to a National Business Group on Health survey of 140 of the largest U.S. corporations taken before the latest congressional action, 48% of employers expect at least one of their benefit plans to hit the excise tax in 2018 if they don't take measures to control rising health care costs. By 2020, 72% expect one of their plans to trigger the tax.

The spending bill also includes a freeze on the health reform law's medical device tax for 2016 and 2017. That tax went into effect in 2013.

The deal also would have the U.S. comptroller general and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners study whether the reform law uses a “suitable” benchmark to determine whether the excise tax thresholds should be adjusted to reflect age and gender factors of an employer's workforce.

The claims data of the benchmark the law now uses — Blue Cross Blue Shield's standard benefit option under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program — has been criticized by the American Benefits Council for being what the council says is as an inaccurate representation of the national workforce.