Medical device tax's days may be numbered

Despite a veto threat from the White House, the U.S. Senate is preparing to fast track a bill to kill the 2.3 percent medical device tax that was instituted as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Late last week, the House overwhelmingly passed its bill to repeal the tax. The vote comes as the Supreme Court is on the verge of issuing a decision on the legality of subsidies to purchase insurance on federal exchanges, another key component of the ACA.

The 280-140 vote in the House included 46 Democrats from states where medical devices are made, according to CBS News. This two-thirds margin would override a veto, should the bill make it to President Obama’s desk.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) this week began the process to fast track the House-approved bill by bypassing the committee process and sending it straight to the Senate floor, according to The Hill.

The tax has been in effect for two years and covers devices used by providers such as imaging equipment. It does not apply to more consumer-oriented devices such as eyeglasses or wheelchairs.

Medical device industry lobbyists have spent nearly $110 million trying to repeal the tax, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard. The American College of Radiology is among a number of professional associations opposed to the medical device tax, saying it “stifles innovation, U.S. competitiveness and adversely affects patient access to new medical technologies.”

As these standalone efforts to kill the tax make their way through Congress, a decision for the plaintiffs in the King v. Burwell case being decided by the Supreme Court would mean subsidies offered to those buying insurance on federally facilitated exchanges would not be allowed as it was written in the ACA. Currently, the plaintiffs argue, the letter of the law allows for subsidies only in states where state-based exchanges have been established, and while Congress could fix the wording to clarify subsidy access, Republicans would likely extract some concessions. This might include a repeal of the medical device tax.