In another example of Representation Without Taxation, on Thursday the House Ways and Means Committee reported out a bill that would repeal the medical device excise tax that was enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act and scheduled to go into effect next year. This week it goes to the floor for a vote which, according to the Associated Press, is largely a political maneuver which allows the House GOP to look like they’re fighting for jobs while conveniently unraveling funding for the Democrats’ health care reform; GOP leader John Boehner concedes the latter himself.
The medical device industry successfully lobbied to cut the rate down on the proposed excise tax, and now they are lobbying to repeal the tax entirely, threatening job losses, reduced innovation and higher costs – the usual corporate response to the suggestion of a tax.
And as usual, most of their claims are unfounded, indeed “not credible,” as a Bloomberg analysis concluded. Bloomberg and others cite one fundamental flaw in the industry’s own analysis: it ignores the increased profits from boosted demand for their product that will be created by the health care reform law.
Another (familiar) ploy the industry is using is hiding behind small businesses, communities and entrepreneurs, but the truth is that about 85 percent of the tax will be paid by very large firms like Johnson & Johnson, GE Healthcare, and Medtronic. Of course, it’s no coincidence that Medtronic, with its $16 billion in revenues last year, is located in the congressional district of the House bill’s sponsor, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN).
While many healthcare companies pay substantial federal income tax, there are companies working to repeal the excise tax that happen to be long-time tax dodgers. For example, General Electric, the parent company of GE Healthcare, has paid an average 2 percent federal income tax rate over the last ten years. Our recent Corporate Taxpayers and Corporate Tax Dodgers study showed medical giant Baxter International had a 2008-2010 average federal income tax rate of negative 7.1 percent.
Curiously, Abbott Laboratories, the seventh-largest medical device manufacturer, has 32 offshore tax haven subsidiaries. That might explain why the company reports that it makes a lot of money in foreign countries, but generates losses in the U.S. – even though half of its revenues are here. Boston Scientific’s SEC filings suggest a similar strategy.
The medical device industry, which has been floundering for reasons of its own making, is squealing about a modest tax it’s likely to pass along to customers anyway. Directing more of its budget to innovation rather than lobbying might be a better solution for them, and for America’s health care consumers.