On the last day of June, New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey (D) signed into law a measure that will require patients to pay a tax on cosmetic plastic surgery procedures performed in the state.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Wayne R. Bryant (D-Camden and Gloucester) and Rep. Joseph Cryan (D-Union), imposes a 6 percent tax on “certain cosmetic medical procedures that are directed at improving the patient’s appearance and that do not promote the proper function of the body or prevent or treat illness or disease.” Among the procedures subject to the tax are breast augmentation, facelifts, botox injections, hair transplants, dermabrasion and chemical peel, laser hair removal, and cosmetic dentistry.
Early in the morning of June 25, the New Jersey legislature agreed on a highly partisan $28 billion 2005 budget that includes nearly $2 billion in new taxes–and big spending hikes to match. The new budget is being challenged by Republicans for its borrowing of $1.9 billion to pay state bills. The fiscal conservatives have been joined by New Jersey physicians agitated by the new tax on their patients.
According to reporter Erica Chernofsky of FoxNews.com, the New Jersey tax will represent “the first time a tax has ever been placed on a surgical procedure in America.”
“The people of New Jersey should be very concerned about what these new laws may mean to their health in the future,” said Rod Rohrich, MD, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) in a comment to CNSNews.com on July 1. “While we understand many states are grappling with the need to resolve huge budget deficits, this law sets a dangerous precedent for lawmakers to consider taxing patients who need elective bariatric, lasik, orthopedic, or other medical procedures based on the state’s, rather than a physician’s, interpretation of ‘medical necessity,'” Rohrich noted.
“I think it is an extremely unfair taxation on a lot of patients who are not extremely wealthy and often save up for long periods of time for these procedures,” former ASPS President Dr. Frank DiSpaltro, a New Jersey physician, told Fox News.
Other doctors and patients agree. “New Jersey already suffers from having patients go to New York or Pennsylvania for health care–and I think this is going to further fuel that exodus,” said Dr. Martin Moskovitz, a plastic surgeon in West Orange.
Richard D’Amico, MD, a New Jersey member of the ASPS, criticized the legislation as a “selective and discriminatory tax on working, middle-class women who represent almost 90 percent of all plastic surgery procedures.
“These bills were introduced, passed through committees, and approved by the legislature and governor in a matter of days,” D’Amico told CNSNews.com. “The public should be troubled by the ‘back-door politics’ undertaken to get these bills passed.
“They were pushed through at the eleventh hour,” continued D’Amico. “There was no chance to interface or interact with the system. There was no public debate. The patients of New Jersey have been shortchanged.”
“I think it’s awful,” said Stacy Goldberg of Hillside, who is considering having cosmetic surgery in the coming months. “I would definitely go to another state to have my surgery now.”
“I believe the comfort level of local surgeons will prevent the exodus of patients to New York and Pennsylvania,” countered Cryan, the bill’s co-sponsor.
Questions About Revenue Projections
Supporters of the tax expected it to increase state revenues by $26 million a year. DiSpaltro, however, thinks the tax will ultimately cost the state money. “As much revenue as the tax will accumulate, I think it will drive a volume of dollars out of the state, and put New Jersey at a disadvantage,” he said.
“Within every procedure there is some element that is reconstructive and some that is cosmetic, and the logistics of deciding that proportion will be very difficult,” continued DiSpaltro. “Where do you draw the line?”
John Skorburg is managing editor of Budget & Tax News. His email address is [email protected].