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Surgeons react to vanity tax moves across U.S.

Article-Surgeons react to vanity tax moves across U.S.

Dr. Bulan
Cosmetic surgeons in New Jersey were virtually blind-sided last year when a proposal to tax cosmetic surgery at a rate of 6 percent passed through the Legislature and was imposed in a matter of months. Doctors hadn't thought it could happen — but with the law's success in New Jersey, a number of other states are taking a serious look at a similar tax to benefit their state coffers.

On Track talked to cosmetic surgeons around the country — including physicians from New Jersey, physicians from states considering the tax and physicians from states where the issue hasn't yet arisen.

New Jersey surgeons say that while it is still too early to determine the exact impact of the tax on their practices, indications aren't necessarily good.

Sherwood A. Baxt, M.D., of Paramus, N.J., has been in practice for 30 years. He doesn't have hard numbers yet, but he started surveying people who had come in for consultations, then decided against going through with the surgery.

"One of our specific questions was whether the cosmetic surgery tax made a difference," he says. "For some people it adds another $600, $900 or $1,000 to the bill — it's real money.

"The majority of those responding are saying that it was the straw that broke the camel's back for them. It was just more than they could afford. My patients are overwhelmingly professional women — I don't get many of the 'ladies who lunch' crowd — and they are in the maturity of their careers and need to look the part. They are definitely price-sensitive."

Dr. Baxt says that because of his proximity to New York, he has lost patients to doctors outside of the Manhattan area whose prices are lower than his. So New Jersey is losing even more money, he says.

"Not only isn't the state getting the revenue from the cosmetic surgery tax, they're getting less income tax from me because my income is down," he says.

Erwin J. Bulan, M.D., practices in Millburn, N.J., and says the fact that he's only been in practice three years may be a saving grace for him with the institution of the cosmetic surgery tax.

"Because I'm really just starting out and my practice is growing, I'm not really seeing a decrease in patients," he tells Cosmetic Surgery Times.

"Patients don't like the idea of the tax, but it's not a deal-breaker most of the time — if it were, they wouldn't be in my office. We can't gauge yet the people who don't come in because of the tax, and, of course, I don't really see people who know about the tax and decide in advance that they're going to New York and Pennsylvania to avoid it.

"I have seen people decide not to have everything done they may have wanted — and who concentrate on a smaller procedure.

"I think we'll have a much better idea of the impact at the end of this year, when we can get a better comparison with previous years."

Scot B. Glasberg, M.D., has offices in both New Jersey and New York. He is seeing an impact from the tax, but says it may be short-lived.

"I have more patients who would normally have had their surgery in New Jersey opt to come to New York for the procedures simply because of the tax. For most, it's just a drive across a bridge, so it's not hard and it makes a significant difference in cost," Dr. Glasberg says.

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