Cosmetic Surgery ‘Vanity Tax’ Not a Great Idea

The political blogs and news providers have been buzzing all day about a proposed cosmetic surgery tax being introduced to finance health care reform.  Top of the Ticket, a blog from the Los Angeles Times, says the tax would probably tack a 10% charge on elective procedures like a Botox, abdominoplasty, or breast augmentation.

Writers of the Speaker’s Lobby say the idea likely came from a treasury department official, and that the tax proposal is supposedly “off the table” for now.  Apparently, most finance committee members are not even aware of the tax proposal.

The so-called ‘Vanity Tax’ is being contested in many different ways, but here are the two arguments being reiterated most.

First of all, the tax would be paid almost entirely by women.  Despite the growing popularity of male cosmetic surgery, women still make up over 90 percent of the patient demographic in the United States.  Clearly, imposing a tax such as the one in question would unfairly discriminate against women.  Think about it this way: would a tax be imposed on men who purchase expensive tattoos, fashionable clothing, or bodybuilding equipment?  It doesn’t seem likely.

Second, what’s probably at work here is the usual misconception that only wealthy people undergo plastic and cosmetic surgery.  You might reference the New York Times story by Natasha Singer titled “Who Is the Real Face of Plastic Surgery?”  Ms. Singer discussed the fact that a large number of patients choose to finance their cosmetic procedures, just as they would a new car.  Also, let’s not forget the 2004 survey conducted by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons; it revealed that nearly “a third of people considering plastic surgery reported average household incomes below $30,000.”

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