Opinion: Senate considers 10% tax on plastic surgery to pay for healthcare reform


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In a town where everyone is trying to find the funds to pay for President Obama‘s ambitious effort to reform healthcare -- currently estimated to cost $1 trillion over the next 10 years -- it was probably inevitable that someone would zero in on plastic surgery.

Americans spend a bundle every year on face-lifts, tummy tucks, breast implants, nose jobs, hair plugs and the like. In fact, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery says we cough up about $12.4 million a year on cosmetic procedures.


See above, the ‘after’ picture on Michael Jackson’s infamous face work.

So earlier this month, when Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus scratched heads with Budget Director Peter Orszag over how to pay for Obamacare, the idea was on the table. Baucus emerged from the meeting to tell reporters he had heard some ‘interesting,’ ‘creative’ and ‘kind of fun’ ideas on how to finance the massive overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system.

Not everyone thinks the tax will make much of a dent in healthcare costs. Malcolm Roth, vice president for health policy and advocacy at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, said a similar tax in New Jersey only brought in about 25% of the funds lawmakers expected when they passed it in 2004.

A plastic surgeon at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., Roth also tried to make cosmetic procedures more politically correct. He disputed that the tax would hurt the wealthy, arguing that most patients save for years for treasured procedures. Plus, he said, the tax would discriminate against women, who make up 86% of the patient list.

-- Johanna Neuman

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