Byline: Robert de Posada
WHAT'S wrong with this picture?
House Minority Leader and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi from California is worth at least $16.3 million personally, makes $125,000 a year and gets tax-free health insurance through the federal government. Yet workers who buy their own health insurance are the only people who don't get a tax break if and when they buy health insurance.
Many of these workers are landscapers, factory workers, manual laborers, delivery workers and early retirees who struggle to make ends meet. Most of them are also the faces of California's 18.3 percent uninsured population, part of the nation's 45 million uninsured, because they work for firms that do not offer health insurance.
The tax code has favored employer-provided health insurance for the last 60 years, and in that time, this important benefit has enabled most Americans to get health insurance from their employers.
But as the cost of health insurance increases, many employers are dropping coverage, leaving millions of Americans to buy their own coverage. This hits the minority community the hardest. Latinos and African-Americans account for more than 50 percent of the uninsured population. One out of every three Latinos is uninsured, as is about one out of every five African-Americans.
Workers who buy their own health insurance are the only people who don't get a tax break if they buy health insurance. This year, employer-provided and self-employed health insurance customers will enjoy a $155 billion tax break. It is fundamentally unfair that workers are discriminated against by the federal tax code in their purchase of health insurance simply because they buy a policy outside of their place of employment.
Rep. Pelosi is willing to take tax-free health insurance while millions of uninsured Latinos and other workers suffer without the tax-free benefit she receives.
But Congress could pass a bill now that would provide relief to workers. This bill, which sponsors call ``Fair Care for the Uninsured,'' would provide money for the purchase of health insurance - $1,000 for an individual, $2,000 for a couple and $3,000 for a family - each year.
Fair Care would correct the discrimination built into the tax code that currently gives unlimited tax benefits to those who get health insurance through their employer, but no tax benefit to the individual purchaser.
These tax credits would be refundable, so that workers who don't owe taxes can receive the credit to put toward health insurance. They could also be advanced to workers up front so that they would have money to buy health insurance.
If Congress passed Fair Care, 18.6 million uninsured people would be eligible for health insurance, according to a study by Fiscal Associates.
Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress think Fair Care is a good idea and support the legislation. The Latino Coalition and other national groups representing Hispanics, small employers and farmers support Fair Care.
Sadly, millionaire Rep. Pelosi, who already gets tax-free health insurance financed by taxpayers, does not support Fair Care. As a result, she is depriving millions of working Americans the same access to care that she enjoys.