Proposed cosmetic surgery tax is wrinkling a few brows

As the Senate version of the health reform package moves towards a vote this weekend, more than a few hot issues are still hanging fire.

One that hasn't gotten much attention is a 5 percent tax on cosmetic procedures included in the Senate bill, which would take effect in January if passed. The so-called "Botax," which is projected to raise $5 billion over the next ten years, is seen as just one more way to fund the $848 billion healthcare bill's costs. It would affect about 12 million cosmetic procedures and surgeries.

Plastic surgeons, of course, are livid over the proposal. They're arguing that they're still reeling from the damage imposed by the recession, and that if their prices go up even 5 percent to compensate, patients are likely to walk away, particularly given that many clients pay for these services out of pocket. They're also suggesting that if passed, the tax could become the doorway to taxes on other surgeries in the future -- though no one seems likely to be proposing a knee-replacement surgery tax anytime soon.

Supporters of the proposal, meanwhile, say this tax is no different than taxes on luxury goods and services. According to Diane Archer, director of the health care project at Institute for America's Future, cosmetic surgery "is not a medical service. It's the equivalent of a facial or a massage."

It's a bit early for the plastic surgery industry to be alarmed, however. With so many substantial differences between the House and Senate reform bills, it's anybody's guess what will shake out.

To learn more about the bill:
- read this Kaiser Health News piece

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Senators ponder varied tax increases, including non-profit hospital tax
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