This week marks Sen. Max Baucus’ (D-Mont.) last in the Senate as he embarks on a new role as U.S. ambassador to China, which may be good news for opponents of the medical device tax.
Baucus, 72, was one of the primary authors of the Affordable Care Act and the medical device sales tax that has been a primary regulatory focus for the medtech industry for years. His retirement may mean the removal of a key opponent of efforts to repeal the medical device levy.
As chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, Baucus helped draft much of the new healthcare laws and negotiated provisions such as the controversial 2.3% medical device tax that’s slated to raise some $30 billion over the course of 10 years to help fund the expansion of healthcare insurance coverage.
The Senate earlier this month approved Baucus’ appointment as ambassador to China, but his presence will remain felt in the U.S. thanks to his 35 years’ worth of policy influence in areas such as healthcare and tax reform. He is widely considered the author of "Obamacare" and has spoken out against efforts to repeal the medical device tax, saying that the medical device industry had agreed fair and square to pay the tax.
"That industry contributed to a solution; they agreed to the tax, essentially, as did other industries. It’s improper at this point to go back on the deal," said last year. "Also, it’d leave a deficit hole. … Who’s going to pay for getting them off the hook?"
As the healthcare reform law was being negotiated back in the fall of 2009, Baucus proposed a "framework" version of the healthcare reform bill with a decade’s worth of "medical device manufacturers fee" of $4 billion a year beginning in 2010. The device industry was quick to protest, countering with a $15 billion proposal. But the final bill to pass out of the Senate finance panel included the $4-billion-a-year levy.
Ultimately the ACA, passed in 2010, mandated the 2.3% tax on all U.S. revenues from sales of medical devices. Baucus has said in the past that he intends to defend the ACA to his last day in office.
"It’s been almost four years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. In that time, the law has done more than any in the past half-century to expand access to health coverage," he said during his farewell address last week. "I am very proud of the role I played in helping make health care more accessible and more affordable to many more Americans."