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Veterinarians Say Health Law's Device Tax Is Unfair To Pets

Posted: October 8, 2013

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The Affordable Care Act included a sales tax on medical devices that is supposed to help pay for the expansion of health insurance coverage. But the tax is being levied on some devices, such as ultrasound scanners, that are used to diagnose and treat animals instead of humans.

Dr. Douglas Aspros holds a patient not covered by the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Douglas Aspros holds a patient not covered by the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Douglas Aspros says the federal health law is increasing his costs to buy medical equipment, which he has no choice but to pass onto his patients — most of whom are uninsured.

None of Aspros' patients, though, will benefit from the Affordable Care Act's expansion of coverage. Aspros, you see, treats dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, parrots and other small animals at his veterinary center in Pound Ridge, N.Y.

The law's 2.3 percent medical device tax, which took effect this year, was meant to make device manufacturers and their buyers contribute to the cost of expanding health coverage because they would benefit from having more business from insured patients.

But some devices used on humans — including ultrasound machines and laboratory and X-ray equipment — are also used for animals. So as a result, veterinarians have to pay the extra tax as well.

"We are not getting any more patients from the Affordable Care Act, and we should not be pulled into this," said Aspros, a past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, which represents more than 84,000 vets. The association has joined device makers and business groups lobbying for a repeal of the tax.

The tax — estimated to raise about $30 billion over the next decade — has become a pawn in a political fight over the health law, with Republicans calling for its repeal in a deal to end the government shutdown. Many Democrats — particularly those with device makers in their districts in Minnesota, Massachusetts and New Jersey — oppose the tax. They argue that like any tax, it hurts sales and will cost them jobs.

The tax is levied on sales of devices, regardless of whether they are made in the U.S. or are imported. Some consumer products, such as hearing aids are exempt. The Obama administration opposes repealing the tax.

Aspros said devices that aren't labeled specifically for veterinary use are subject to the 2.3 percent tax. "That may sound trivial but if a device costs $30,000 to $40,000, it is not a trivial expense," he said.

He said veterinarians may have to pass on the extra costs when they bill patients for treating their pets. He noted visits to pet doctors have fallen since the economic downturn. He said some veterinarians may delay upgrading their equipment rather than pay the extra tax. "This is an additional expense ... and we do not need to bear this burden on top of an already stressed environment," he said.

Copyright 2014 Kaiser Health News. To see more, visit http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/.

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