Implementation of ACA’s Controversial “Cadillac Tax” Delayed Until 2020

Among the many requirements imposed by the Affordable Care Act, none are more controversial than the excise tax to be imposed on expensive health plans. This provision of the law, commonly known as the “Cadillac Tax,” would impose a 40% excise tax on group health plans to the extent their total annual premium costs exceed $10,200 for single coverage and $27,500 for family coverage (cost thresholds are indexed for inflation). In other words, a plan offering single coverage with a total annual premium of $11,200 (i.e. $1000 above the tax threshold) would owe an excise tax of $400 for each participant who elects that coverage option. The Cadillac Tax, originally scheduled to take effect in 2018, was expected to generate much of the funding necessary to finance the tax subsidies that are available to low-earning participants in the ACA health insurance exchanges. The Tax was also intended to motivate employers and carriers to find ways to reduce the cost of employee health coverage. However, carriers, employers, and unions alike have criticized the Cadillac Tax since the ACA was passed in 2010 – and that criticism intensified as the Tax’s 2018 effective date approached.

On December 18, 2015, President Obama approved a spending and tax package that includes a two-year delay of the Cadillac Tax effective date. The excise tax will now not take effect until 2020. The new law also makes the Cadillac Tax deductible for employers.

With a presidential election in 2016, the Cadillac Tax was sure to become a frequent speech topic for candidates pledging to “repeal or replace” the ACA. The two-year delay will likely reduce the degree to which candidates focus on the Cadillac Tax; however, the ACA is sure to draw attention from candidates in both parties. Interestingly, the new effective date also happens to fall in a presidential election year. Assuming the Cadillac Tax remains part of the ACA, it is possible that another delay may be proposed four years from now. In the meantime, it’s not entirely clear how the tax subsidies for participants in the ACA insurance exchange will be financed.