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Why Romney’s Medicare Taxes Are So Low

By / 8.16.2012

As the presidential candidates debate the fate of Medicare, it’s worth noting a very simple fact: Mitt Romney paid only 0.07% of his income in Medicare taxes in 2010. By comparison, the typical American worker paid 1.45% of his or her income in Medicare taxes plus an equal amount paid by the employer. In other words, Romney’s Medicare tax rate was about one-fortieth of the norm.

How did he manage this trick? The key is that investment income, which made up 97% of Romney’s total income in 2010, is not subject to payroll taxes that pay for Medicare or Social Security. That means he only paid Medicare taxes on his speaking and directing fees. If Romney had paid the full Medicare tax rate on all of his income, he would have paid about $628,000. Instead he paid $15,908.

Oddly enough, despite his relatively meager contribution, Mitt is also likely eligible for free Medicare coverage. Current Medicare rules stipulate that as long as he paid into the system for 10 years, he can still receive full coverage.

Because Romney is self-employed, he is paying both the employer and employee shares of the Medicare tax. We therefore compared his tax rate to the combined employer-employee rate for wage and salary workers (2.9% for Medicare taxes). And because he is self-employed Romney got to deduct a portion of his Medicare taxes to calculate his adjusted total income for tax purposes.

A new 3.8% Medicare tax on investment income for high income Americans, scheduled to go into effect in 2013 as part of healthcare reform, would dramatically boost the Medicare taxes paid by people with Romney-like returns. However, there are efforts underway in Congress to get it repealed.