The right-wing, seizing on this report from CBS News, has begun claiming that the health reform bill currently before the House of Representatives will destroy tax privacy as we know it. The provision in question calls for income verification of those claiming the low-income subsidies (which are available for purchasing health insurance) that are established in the bill. “This totally eliminates the idea of tax privacy,” Dick Morris told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren. “It’s really the equivalent of publishing your tax returns in The Congressional Record. It’s unbelievable!”
Fox also ran a segment today, excoriating Democrats for taking “information for health care, but not for preventing terrorism”:
Even more concerns this morning surrounding the President proposed health care reform bill. Provisions that would force the IRS to give your personal information to a new government health choices commissioner. So Democrats can take Americans’ information for health care, but not for preventing terrorism. Got it?
First, as even Fox’s analyst conceded, it makes sense to verify income for people claiming subsidies. Otherwise the subsidy system would be ripe for fraud and abuse. For an organization so often concerned with the government wasting money, you’d think Fox would be against giving subsidies to those who don’t qualify.
Second, data-sharing of this sort already happens, and from an efficiency standpoint makes perfect sense. Why require persons applying for subsidies to submit another income statement to the government, when the IRS already has the data? As the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute pointed out, state governments access IRS information — among other sources — to verify income for Medicaid and CHIP applicants:
Verifying income using other government databases requires cooperation and coordination with other programs…States typically use four to five databases to confirm income information — Food Stamps, TANF, Social Security, the IRS, and state wage and unemployment compensation programs. Typically, state Medicaid agencies already have access to these databases.
And then there’s this section of the health care bill which expressly forbids use of the information for purposes other than income verification:
(B) RESTRICTION ON USE OF DISCLOSED INFORMATION — Return information disclosed under subparagraph (A) may be used by officers and employees of the Health Choices Administration or such State-based health insurance exchange, as the case may be, only for the purposes of, and to the extent necessary in, establishing and verifying the appropriate amount of any affordability credit described in subtitle C of title II of the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 and providing for the repayment of any such credit which was in excess of such appropriate amount.’
All in all, it seems like conservatives are making much ado about nothing.