My husband has been furloughed for over two weeks now. He works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has been deemed “unessential,” poor guy. I’m not bringing this up to start a debate about this inane government shutdown (which hopefully will have ended by the time this post runs!), but to bring up a topic that you might not think has much of a connection to veterinary medicine – the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare.

Part of the way the ACA is being funded is through a new 2.3% medical device tax. The rationale behind this is that the manufacturers and buyers of medical devices (big purchases like ultrasound machines and X-ray equipment, not over-the-counter products marketed to consumers) are going to see an increase in business as a result of the ACA, and therefore can afford to chip in a part of their increased revenues to pay for the law’s implementation.

Not unsurprisingly, opponents of the ACA and congressional representatives that hail from parts of the country where medical device manufacturers do business are against this tax, the repeal of which has now been cited by some as a condition to ending the partial government shutdown. But I was surprised to see that another, usually rather apolitical group, has recently come out in opposition to the medical device tax – veterinarians.

You see, the ACA does not discriminate as to who is purchasing the taxable device. Therefore, when a veterinary practice, which won’t see an increase in patient load due to the ACA, purchases a medical device designed for human use, it too has to pay the 2.3% tax. This has angered some veterinarians who say they will inevitably have to pass the expense on to their clients.

Frankly, I don’t see what the big deal is. Let’s say a veterinary practice makes a really big purchase – a $20,000 medical device of some sort or other. 2.3% of that is $460. Presumably, the practice wouldn’t be buying the device if it didn’t think it could be used on a regular basis. I’ll be conservative and say once every other day. If the practice is open 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year that comes 156 uses per year. 460 divided by 156 comes to under $3 per use to pay off the extra expense in just one year. I hardly think that is going to be a make or break issue.

Also, devices designed for veterinary-only use are exempt. I like the idea that this tax may encourage more practices into supporting companies that focus on the veterinary market, which is traditionally underserved.

So why are some veterinarians making such a big deal about this? I suspect they are against the ACA for other reasons and are simply making use of a convenient argument to woo others to their side. I’ve got no problem with people discussing the pros and cons of various aspects of the Affordable Care Act, but can’t they do it while my husband is working (he’s starting to drive me crazy!) and without dragging the medical care of pets into the fray?

Dr. Jennifer Coates

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