Bo-tax: a levy on nips and tucks?

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© Klaus Tiedge/Corbis

The health care bill currently being debated in the Senate includes a provision that would levy a 5% tax on elective cosmetic surgeries. The proposed Bo-tax is being presented by supporters as a simple economic tool to help offset health care costs, yet detractors—including some 7,000 doctors in the American Academy of Plastic Surgeons—say that the tax is based on inaccurate assumptions that everyone who gets plastic surgery is very wealthy, that it unfairly targets women, who make up the majority of plastic surgery patients, and that it will drive people to seek less expensive and potentially more dangerous options for cosmetic procedures.

As it’s currently written, the proposed tax wouldn’t apply to people seeking cosmetic treatment for injuries or disfigurements caused by accidents, trauma or disease. Yet, often, plastic surgeries aren’t clearly either for medical or aesthetic reasons, and instead can be a combination of both. (The person who has a nose job to clear up a breathing problem and has a little sculpting done as well, for example). Additionally, plastic surgeons argue that the taxes could further harm their business, which has already seen fewer patients since the economic downturn as liposuction and other procedures have lost popularity. Even as plastic surgeons criticize the proposed measure, they concede that there’s not likely to be a hue and cry against the tax from plastic surgery patients themselves, who would likely be too embarrassed to publicly protest. As Dr. Steven Teitelbaum, a Santa Monica-based plastic surgeon, told the New York Times:

“They don’t want to come out and march on Capitol Hill,” he said. “You’re not going to have a million-man Botox march.”

Yet, for all of its detractors—silent or vocal—it seems unlikely that the proposed tax’s opponents will generate much sympathy with lawmakers. What do you think? Is this a logical way to drum up some funding for more fundamental medical needs? Or is this “vanity tax” overstepping into what people should be allowed to do with their own money—after all, most elective cosmetic surgeries already aren’t covered by insurance plans. Whatever your views on the Bo-tax however, it seems unlikely that its opponents will earn much sympathy from lawmakers any time soon—in the ever-growing list of health care concerns, tax-free tummy tucks are not likely a high priority.