Several progressive economists and thinkers are promoting the idea of a new state payroll tax to get around the fact that the Republican tax plan has limited the deduction on state and local income taxes. I think this is a good idea, but if we are changing blue states' tax structures we can also improve health insurance coverage at the same time.
The Republican tax also repealed the individual mandate. While there is a serious debate about how much impact the loss of the mandate will have on enrollment and premiums, it is likely it will reduce the number of people with health insurance. This has given Democrats an opportunity to come up with a new, better, and more popular way of expanding coverage.
My suggestion is to make the new state payroll tax roughly $2 per hour more than what is needed to replace the state income tax but to give employers a $2 per hour deduction for providing health insurance. For the vast majority of employers/employees who already have coverage via work, this would have zero impact, but it would work as a soft employer mandate for companies that don’t offer coverage. This is similar to the Healthy San Francisco program adopted in 2007, which successfully expanding coverage/access in the city.
This employer mandate would directly increase the number of people with health insurance since some companies would likely offer coverage as a result. It would also provide a pool of money to improve affordability and/or access. It could be used to do a reinsurance program, provide coverage for immigrants not eligible for Medicaid, provide wrap around tax credits on the state exchanges, or provide funding for public health insurance efforts.
My preferred policy would be for states to also create a public option/Medicaid buy in and use the money from the employer mandate to provide subsidies to make it affordable for everyone. Between the cost savings from the public plan being able to negotiate lower prices and the extra money from the employer mandate, the state should be able to actually make coverage truly affordable for everyone.