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Archive for July 28th, 2009

The politicians in Washington are looking at a huge laundry list of new taxes to finance government-run health care and one of the items on the list is a 10 percent tax on cosmetic surgery. While I’m tempted to make a joke about this being the “Pelosi tax,” there is a much more serious point to be made. Cosmetic surgery is a very good example of how free markets work in the health sector – when they are given a chance. As Mark Perry and Don Boudreuxhave noted, there are some instances where markets are allowed to work, and they do an excellent job of providing valuable goods at affordable prices. Cosmetic surgery is one of those examples. So should we be surprised, as this National Journal story indicates, that politicians wants to tax the approach that works – a genuine free market exchange between buyers and sellers – to expand the approach – government intervention that expands the third-party payer problem – that doesn’t work?

Face-lifts, tummy tucks and hair transplants could be hit with a new tax to help finance the trillion-dollar healthcare overhaul plan, according to sources familiar with the Senate talks. The Senate Finance Committee has discussed imposing a 10 percent excise tax on cosmetic surgery deemed unnecessary for medical purposes. The idea was broached in a meeting with OMB Director Orszag in mid-July, after which Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus told reporters he had heard some “interesting,” “creative,” and “kind of fun” ideas. The tax, which has not been officially scored, would plug some of the revenue gap senators are seeking to fill to keep on schedule for a markup the week of Aug. 3. It would target procedures prohibited under Section 213 of the tax code, which deals with itemized deductions for medical expenses not covered by health insurance. The 1990 deficit-reduction law prohibited taxpayers from taking deductions for cosmetic surgery “unless the surgery or procedure is necessary to ameliorate a deformity arising from, or directly related to, a congenital abnormality, a personal injury resulting from an accident or trauma, or a disfiguring disease.” The law defines cosmetic surgery as “any procedure which is directed at improving the patient’s appearance and does not meaningfully promote the proper function of the body or prevent or treat illness or disease.” According to the IRS, deductions for procedures such as reconstructive surgery due to cancer or laser eye surgery would be allowed. But nose jobs, liposuction, teeth-whitening procedures and Botox injections to smooth wrinkles would be prohibited under Sec. 213 and subject to the new tax.

 

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