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Why taxing cosmetic surgery is a bad idea.

If Americans were concerned about Congress getting its grubby hands on their Medicare, wait till it touches their breast implants. Among the ways the Senate health care bill pays for itself is a 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic surgery like tummy tucks, face lifts, hair plugs, collagen injections, and any other nonrequired procedures—a proposal known as the “Botax.”

Plastic surgeons, like many of their patients, aren’t smiling. Industry groups like the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons have launched campaigns against the tax, arguing not only that it would hurt business during a recession—elective surgeries are down already—but that it doesn’t target the high rollers Congress is aiming for. Furthermore, says Big Knife, taxing cosmetic surgery could sag the economy as a whole, just when it needs a lift most. (The tax would raise an estimated $6 billion.)

The tax seems like an easy populist sell. One imagines the main clientele of plastic surgeons as the cast of the Real Housewives of New Jersey. But the tax isn’t as progressive as it sounds, say surgeons. According to a 2005 survey by the ASPS, one-third of people who get plastic surgery make less than $30,000 a year, 70 percent of clients make less than $60,000, 86 percent make less than $90,000, and only 13 percent make more than $90,000. (Of course, that survey was based on people planning to get elective surgery, not those who actually got it.) Indeed, cosmetic surgery is an industry supported largely by people who can’t afford it—a full 85 percent of operations are paid for using credit, according to Middlebury sociology professor Laurie Essig. As a result, the tax would hit low-income consumers especially hard.

This post was authored by Christopher Beam and found on MSNBC. The information in the story is right on.

Lee Corbett, MD


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