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Roginsky: The Botax Whose Time Has Come

Julie Roginsky, CNBC Contributor
Monday, 30 Nov 2009 | 11:45 AM ET

The closer we get to passage of comprehensive health care legislation, the more Darwinist tendencies begin to assert themselves among different groups with competing interests.

Regardless of political affiliation or age group, most Americans believe that health care reform of some sort is a necessity, but significantly fewer are prepared to pay a price – any price – to see it enacted. Now comes the battle over the so-called “Botox tax” – a proposal to tax elective cosmetic surgery in order to help pay for comprehensive health care reform.

Groups as varied as the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the National Organization for Women have denounced the tax as discriminatory towards women and the middle class. Others have argued that if a tax on cosmetic surgery is imposed, it will lead patients to travel to third-world countries for cheaper but far more dangerous medical procedures.

Healthcare coverage and the hastle of forms
Healthcare coverage and the hastle of forms

The tab for adequate healthcare for the uninsured and underinsured —the kind that really does protect from premature death, if not wrinkles— must always be borne by someone else, according to this line of thought.

Women are consistently more vulnerable to loss of health care coverage than men and in 2007, more than half of all American women reported failure to access needed care because of cost. And yet some women’s groups have inexplicably denounced a 5% tax on elective cosmetic surgery that can help pay for truly vital care for women.

The cosmetic surgery proposal is estimated to raise between $5 billion and $8 billion – a drop in the bucket compared to the overall tab for health care. It would, and should, exclude procedures that are currently considered deductible medical expenses. Women undergoing mastectomies, for instance, should not pay a penny more than necessary for reconstructive surgery and no legislation should force them to. But those who choose to undergo elective breast enhancement surgery for purely cosmetic purposes should pay slightly more so that all women over 40 are able to have preventive mammogram screenings – something currently mandated in fewer than half the states in the nation.

For too long, we as a nation have been told that we can accrue benefits without having to bear any burden. Over the past decade, massive tax cuts were enacted even as the nation waged two wars, expanded Medicare prescription drug coverage by $1 trillion and grew the size of government. Lest a revisionist narrative take hold, all of this was perpetuated by the same Republican leadership (and a few of their enablers on the other side of the aisle) that now stands in lock-step opposition to deficit neutral health care reform because of alleged concerns about the debt.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average Botox procedure nationally cost $501 in 2007. This new tax would raise the cost of that procedure to slightly more than $525 – a small price to pay so that Americans finally get access to truly life saving medical care. If we were really serious about tackling the national debt, finding sources of revenue to pay for policy proposals would be a good start.

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Julie Roginsky is a CNBC contributor who has extensive experience in government, politics and public relations on both the federal and state levels including serving as the Washington communications director for former Senator Jon Corzine.

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