NEW YORK – The cost of a nose job could soon be nothing to sneeze at in New Jersey.
People who have unnecessary cosmetic surgery (search) in the state will soon have to start paying a 6 percent tax for their procedure if Gov. James McGreevey (search) signs a budget that was passed last week by the state Legislature.
It will be the first time a tax has ever been placed on a surgical procedure in America.
The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Wayne R. Bryant and Democratic Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, 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.
The taxed procedures include breast augmentation, facelifts, botox injections and cosmetic dentistry.
New Jersey patients and plastic surgeons are up in arms.
“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,” said Dr. Frank DiSpaltro, former president of the American Society for Plastic Surgery (search) and a New Jersey physician.
Doctors say they are worried that they will lose money and patients because of the new bill.
“New Jersey already suffers from having patients go to New York or Pennsylvania for healthcare … and I think this is going to further fuel that exodus,” said Dr. Martin Moskovitz, a plastic surgeon in West Orange.
“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.”
Doctors will now be forced either to maintain their fee structure and pass along the tax to their patients, or lower their fees in order to remain competitive with doctors in neighboring states.
But legislators think differently.
“I believe the comfort level of local surgeons will prevent the exodus of patients to New York and Pennsylvania,” said Cryan, the bill's co-sponsor.
The tax is expected to increase state revenues by $26 million. The money is intended to go to charitable or uninsured patients, although that is not specified in the bill.
“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,” said DiSpaltro.
The question on the minds of many New Jersey residents who want plastic surgery is whether their surgery will fall under the new tax.
“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,” said DiSpaltro. “Where do you draw the line?”
In addition, the privacy of patients becomes an issue.
“In order for the state to monitor this tax, they’re going to have to come in and go through patients’ records to check the exact procedures they received, which is a huge violation of privacy,” said Dr. Richard D’Amico, a plastic surgeon in Englewood.
Another issue that will arise is whether surgical finance companies will continue to pay for the procedure for those who cannot afford it, once it includes the added tax.
Accompanying this bill is another regulation that places a tax of at least 3.5 percent on ambulatory care facilities, which include CAT scans and MRIs.