Health care reform’s tanning tax

To minimize the penalties you may suffer under health care reform, withdraw from your HSA now and spend the money on some indoor tanning. From this helpful timeline [.pdf] detailing what’s in the reform bill:

Indoor Tanning Services Tax. Imposes a ten percent tax on amounts paid for indoor tanning services in lieu of the tax on cosmetic surgery. Indoor tanning services are services that use an electronic product with one or more ultraviolet lamps to induce skin tanning. The tax would be effective for services on or after July 1 , 2010.

I dislike indoor tanning as much as anyone who’s had “Jersey Shore” intrude into their cultural lexicon but I don’t know why taxing it should be part of health care reform, why this is a logical substitute for taxing cosmetic surgery, or why we were thinking about taxing cosmetic surgery in the first place. Thankfully I tan the natural way, from the glow of my computer monitor.

[Link via Arnold Kling.]

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Health care reform’s unseen costs

Chad Wilcox nicely sums up why many libertarians lament the passage of the health care reform bill:

A libertarian professor I know once said he believed that libertarianism’s greatest intellectual contribution is a recognition of the unseen. We’ll never see what open competition could have done to health costs in markets for health care left free of government interference. We’ll never see how the voluntarily uninsured would have spent the money they’re now required to spend on plans. We’ll never see how many lives could have been saved or how much healthier we could be in a world with technological innovations that are more costly and burdensome to develop as a result of government. I’m not saying there will be no technology and no innovation, I’m saying when we make these choices “as a society ” we sacrifice the unseen what-could-have-been for a “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” philosophy that defies the most basic tenets of economics.

Like many libertarians, I think it takes a remarkably credulous faith in government to think that this bill is fiscally responsible. But what really disappoints me about it is that it fundamentally rejects the sort of reforms I’d favor and puts up new barriers to their enactment. Specifically, I’d like to see us move away from insurance as the primary means of paying for routine health care. This bill takes the opposite approach with its individual mandate that everyone purchase insurance, immediately inviting aggressive lobbying on behalf of providers to expand minimum levels of coverage. It additionally weakens Health Savings Accounts first by increasing the penalty for making non-health care related withdrawals, then by further limiting the amount people can contribute to them. One of the few nods in the direction of penalizing excessive insurance is the so-called “Cadillac tax” and it doesn’t even go into effect until 2018 so who knows if that will survive.

The seen costs of this health care bill will become all too apparent in the deficits to come. It’s the unseen costs of making it much harder to try out the market-oriented ideas of people like Milton Friedman, Michael Cannon, Arnold Kling, and yes, John McCain, that are most depressing.

Previously:
Bartenders for McCain?

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Menu labeling goes national

Jacob Sullum reminds us that among the many provisions in the heath care bill passed yesterday is a federal rule requiring calorie counts on chain restaurant menus nationwide. Obviously this is small potatoes compared to other aspects of the bill, but it’s still a bad idea. As I’ve explained in The Washington Examiner and on this blog, the empirical case that these labels will have any effect on obesity remains very weak. Labeling should have been examined further in the jurisdictions that require it before taking it national. If it worked, we could have debated a federal law separately. Instead we’re stuck complying with it before the idea has been proven, and when results fail to materialize we won’t see Congress rushing to repeal their error.

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