After sending letters of protest to Congress in the months prior to the healthcare law's approval, U.S. companies are now facing multi-million dollar after-tax hits this year due to a tax provision in the new legislation, labeling them healthcare reform losers instead of winners.
Part of the new healthcare law places a federal income tax on government subsidies given to companies that provide retirees and their spouses with drug benefit plans. The 28% subsidy was created as Medicare Part D, adding a prescription plan for senior citizens to the Medicare Act of 2003. To encourage companies to continue offering retirees a drug plan, the tax-free subsidy reduced companies' costs. Fewer senior citizens then went through Medicare's prescription program - which would have cost taxpayers much more than the subsidy price.
Caterpillar Inc (NYSE: CAT) and Deere & Company (NSYE: DE) are just two of the businesses that fought the new stipulations. The manufacturers estimate the tax will cost them $100 million and $150 million this year, respectively. Other companies who will pay handsomely include AK Steel Corp. (NYSE: AKS) with $31 million in charges, and Honeywell International Inc. (NYSE: HON) with an estimated fee of $42 million.
Consulting firm Towers Watson & Co. (NYSE: TW) estimates these taxes could cost companies about $233 per person receiving drug benefits - a hefty price tag when a company gives benefits to 40,000 retirees, like Caterpillar.
Overall, more than 3,500 companies offer drug benefits to 6.3 million retirees. Although the tax won't be effective until 2011, accounting practices force companies to recognize the fees in the period in which the law is signed. That means the tax could nab $14 billion from corporate profits in a year when companies were hoping to recover from huge losses during the recession.