What is striking about this picture -- and contradicts Mr. Obama's public comments -- is that the McCain tax credit for the purchase of health insurance exceeds the value of the current exclusion for all income levels shown. Indeed, it generally provides more resources to purchase health insurance than the existing exclusion. The total subsidy for health care would rise from about $3.6 trillion over 10 years today to roughly $5 trillion under his proposal.
How large an effect does this proposal have on the number of uninsured? Based on estimates by career economists in the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Analysis of similar proposals discussed in the Washington Beltway several years ago, the McCain health-care tax credit can be expected to increase the number of insured by 15 million and probably more. The Lewin Group, a respected private health-care research outfit, recently estimated that the McCain credit would increase the number of insured by as much as 21 million. It is true that many may no longer get their insurance through their employer, but they will be given the resources to purchase insurance on their own.
Will the insurance that is purchased be a generous plan with first dollar coverage or low deductibles? It is much more likely to be a plan with higher deductibles that is more focused on providing true insurance against catastrophic losses rather than a more generous plan that includes a lot of prepayment for routine and predictable medical expenses. But this is precisely one of the objectives of the policy: to reduce the current tax bias that encourages people to funnel routine health expenses through insurance policies.