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Taxing cosmetic surgery

As the overhaul of the nation's health care system continues on Capitol Hill, some of the debate has the pop of prime-time medical dramas. One proposed five-percent tax on elective cosmetic surgery - not procedures to correct congenital defects, injuries resulting from trauma or disease - strikes some surgeons as egregious. Gordon Lee, MD, an assistant professor in Stanford's plastic and reconstructive surgery department, also worries that the tax could have unintended consequences, ultimately leaving the nation with more costly health-care issues.

Echoing the concerns of colleagues nationwide, Lee, who is a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, says the proposed tax might "drive patients to seeker 'cheaper' alternatives, such as unlicensed, uncertified, "discount" plastic surgery, either in the United States or outside the country." Such so-called medical tourism, he argues, "is not a very good option."

Some critics have suggested that the "Bo-Tax" would discriminate against women, who comprise the majority of cosmetic surgery patients. But Lee, who does breast and penis reconstructions, doesn't share that concern. "Both men and women get plastic surgery, so I don't think it is specifically targeting women."

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