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December 21, 2014

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This’ll wrinkle some brows!

A Senate committee ponders a plastic-surgery tax

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Robert Ullman

The Drudge Report went straight for the cheap joke—photos of Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Then the late-night hosts made the obligatory cracks about Pelosi’s facial features.

A Los Angles Times blog illustrated an entry about the tax with a photo of Michael Jackson.

Welcome to the debate about the Botax, an issue custom-fitted for bad jokes and tabloid headlines.

The Senate Finance Committee has been kicking around the idea of creating a 10 percent federal sales tax on cosmetic surgeries. Uh-oh. This is going to cause some wrinkles around the eyes in Sin City, where cosmetic surgeons advertise on bus-stop shelters.

In 2008 there were more than 12 million cosmetic surgeries performed in the country. That’s a lot of fake busts, shortened noses and tucked tummies. In addition, there were more than 5 million shots of botox pushed into cheeks and foreheads. The total cost? More than $10 billion.

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The total cost of overhauling the American health-care system? Estimated to be in the neighborhood of $1 trillion.

The cosmetic-surgery industry has begun lobbying against the tax, asking logical questions. Who decides what surgery is necessary? Cosmetic surgeries have been defined by the IRS 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.”

Is this sexist? Most sources claim women get about 85 percent of all cosmetic procedures.

And, most importantly, would this work? A similar tax in New Jersey, the only state to tax such procedures, has largely been a failure, bringing in only about 25 percent of the expected revenue. (A spokesman for the Nevada State Medical Association couldn’t be reached for comment.)

The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery also offers this startling statistic: Among men surveyed, 31 percent said they would choose Dr. Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy to perform their surgery. That’s a little odd since Dr. Grey does not work in plastics with McSteamy.

Still probably better than Dr. Sean Su, the local doctor who recently had his medical license suspended after a pair of botched surgeries he allegedly performed in an unlicensed clinic using expired medicines. Or the strange series of thousands of underground cosmetic surgeries performed for cash during the off hours of The Medical Spa at Summerlin. The lawsuit in that case, between the spa owner and a doctor, is ongoing.

And while plastic surgery is sure to grab headlines, especially when accompanied by Michael Jackson photos—or, as Fox News did, a slide show of celebrities who seem to have had a little work done, including the queen of the tight faces, Joan Rivers, and the princess of plastic surgery, Pamela Anderson.

But the Las Vegas headlines will not only be about the politics surrounding $4,000 breast-augmentation specials. Nevada treats taxes like Donatella Versace treats the aging process: denial and avoidance.

We live in a state where a governor can be elected primarily on the basis of anti-tax propaganda—despite sexual-assault accusations; evidence he employed an illegal-immigrant nanny; and allegations that as a Congressman he steered defense contracts to a friend in return for a cruise and awarded a no-bid contract to a company that had his wife on the payroll.

In a strange twist, the cocktail waitress Gov. Jim Gibbons had been accused of attempting to do something dirty with seems to have had a little work done herself. Doesn’t seem like the governor would have charged her the extra 10 points.

Nor will anyone getting the discount surgeries be eager to pony up an extra $400.

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