A Doctor Should Know Better: Coburn Says ‘Botox Tax’ Would Apply To Reconstructive Breast Surgery

botox2Cosmetic surgeons and some conservative lawmakers are mischaracterizing that the new 5% “botox tax” on cosmetic surgeries and procedures in the merged Senate health reform bill. The tax, which would raise an estimated $5 billion over the next decade to help fund health reform, is narrowly tailored towards voluntary cosmetic procedures. But some critics, like long-time contrarian Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), are suggesting that the reform bill would also tax more serious operations, like breast reconstruction surgery following cancer:

Just yesterday — the day before yesterday, U.S. preventive task forces, services, recommended because it’s not cost effective that women under 50 not get mammograms unless they have risk factors. Well, you tell that to the thousands of women who were diagnosed with breast cancer lat last — last year under 50 with a mammogram. You tell them it’s not cost effective. Also in this bill is a 5% tax on the breast reconstruction surgery after they had a mastectomy. They’re going to tax having your breast rebuilt after your breast is taken off because it is elective plastic surgery. It is elective cosmetic surgery. We’re going to have a tax on it because we’ve taxed elective cosmetic surgery. We’re in trouble as a nation because we’ve taken our eye off the ball.

Coburn may be one of only two doctors serving in the Senate, but he’s no more knowledgeable about what constitutes ‘elective cosmetic surgery’ under reform legislation, than the average layman. Section 9017 of the merged Senate bill relies on the IRS definition of ‘cosmetic surgery,’ which defines the procedure 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.”

The Senate bill doesn’t tax all cosmetic operations. Surgeries to “ameliorate a deformity arising from, or directly related to, a congenital abnormality, a personal injury resulting from an accident or trauma, or disfiguring disease” are excluded from taxation.

Under that standard, surgery performed to reconstruct a woman’s breast after cancer — a disfiguring disease — would not be taxed:


The tax is intended to discourage consumers from undergoing unnecessary surgeries or procedures. As much as one-third of nation’s health care expenditures are spent on procedures that don’t improve health outcomes. Capturing some of that spending and re-investing it into health care reform would help to slow the growing rate of health care spending, finance reform, and ultimately reduce costs for everyone. In short, the tax would help fill the wrinkles in America’s broken health care system.