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July 22, 2020

OP-ED: Americans need medical expense relief amid COVID-19 uncertainty

Americans continue to grapple with the skyrocketing cost of health care. Whether it’s paying for life-saving prescription drugs, innovative new therapies, surprise hospital bills, or routine medical care, these costs are part of our everyday lives. For millions of Americans, these costs will feel even heavier as they grapple with the economic fallout caused by our current public health crisis.

Fortunately, there is an easy way for Congress to help make health care more affordable. This week, I introduced legislation that will provide Americans with real relief by increasing the availability of the medical expense tax deduction in two ways.

First, the legislation locks in permanent relief for the future by preventing a change in law scheduled for next year that would make the medical expense deduction out of reach for many families. By keeping the threshold for which families can use the medical expense deduction at 7.5 percent of income instead of letting it jump up to 10 percent next year, my bill ensures more Americans can receive additional relief for their health care expenses. Second, the legislation provides extra help during these uncertain times and sets the threshold even lower— 5 percent of annual income— for 2020 and 2021. This can help families facing unexpected costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, like keeping their health coverage when furloughed or laid off.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I have spoken with countless constituents facing unpredictable health care challenges coupled with significant out-of-pocket costs. The pandemic has showed us how our lives can change at a moment’s notice when it comes to how we provide for ourselves and family. Whether it is our seniors on Medicare or our brothers and sisters without insurance, we must find policies to help alleviate the burden of the cost of health care, especially in the face of unpredictable times.

Nearly 40 percent of individuals who would be eligible to claim the medical expense deduction at the current rate are over the age of 65. According to AARP, nearly 4.4 million Americans rely on the medical expense deduction each year to help lower the cost of their health care. Around 70 percent of the taxpayers taking the medical expense deduction have incomes between $23,100 and $113,000 per year.

Too often in Washington, D.C., taxes are increased to pay for new spending, and this is what happened with the medical expense deduction. Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration ‘paid’ for a slice of the Affordable Care Act’s tremendous costs by making it harder for Americans to qualify for this tax deduction. Since then, Congress has acted several times (mostly at the last minute) to temporarily allow the deduction to remain at its pre-ACA level of 7.5 percent of income. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which I helped champion last Congress, added some stability to the medical expense deduction rate, but we can— and must— go even further in this unprecedented time.

Making this vital medical expense deduction more generous now and in the future will ensure more individuals with pre-existing conditions, chronic conditions, and our elderly population will be able to save on health care. Congress should include this measure in the next relief bill and deliver for American families.

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