Why A New Healthcare Tax Is Making Its Way To Hospitals, And Patients

by Christopher Weaver, The Wall Street Journal  |  published on February 1, 2013

Small medical-device makers have little choice but to pass their new 2.3% excise tax— meant to pay for the health law —on to hospitals and other customers, said the chief executive of one manufacturer that began surcharging hospitals for its wares on Jan. 1.

“The government thinks we’re just going to absorb these costs, but for a company like us, it’s a lot of money,” said Kevin Rudolph, the chief executive of the family-run respiratory valve maker, Hans Rudolph Inc. Instead, he said, device makers will be raising prices or adding surcharges to bills— just like other companies that faced excise taxes in the past.

In a December letter to several thousand hospital customers, Mr. Rudolph told hospitals his company would add a new line item for the tax beginning on Jan. 1. Hospitals and group-purchasing organizations began protesting last week as similar warnings from other device makers began piling up, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

The tax is meant to raise $30 billion to help cover the health law. The device industry has lobbied to repeal the tax, which applies to sales, rather than profits. The recent clashes between hospitals and device makers underscores the breadth of the tax: It applies to companies that make big ticket items such as pacemakers and hip implants, as well as smaller firms selling surgical tools or making the plastic tubes, clips and valves that are ubiquitous in hospitals and nursing homes.

Mr. Rudolph said his firm had opted to tell hospitals upfront they’d be charged for the tax, rather than sneaking it into price increases. “I think it’s better for the customer to know what’s going on, even if they don’t like it,” he said Monday.

Hans Rudolph Inc. typically makes a 4% to 6% profit on about $5 million to $6 million in annual sales, Mr. Rudolph said. The 53-year-old Shawnee, Kan., company was founded by Mr. Rudolph’s father, and grandfather, Hans. The two elder Rudolphs built the company out of a Kansas City, Mo., basement, where Hans devised several respiratory devices. Key products still include spirometry components, for the common breath test in which patients are asked to exhale into plastic tubes.

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