As Republicans try to shore up support for their health care overhaul, one group can’t wait for the replacement: owners of tanning salons.
President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act imposed a 10 percent tax on tanning as a way to help fund provisions of the law that expanded coverage for some 20 million Americans. The so-called tan tax took a heavy toll on the industry.
Nearly 10,000 salons closed in the U.S. since Obama’s law went into effect, representing about 55 percent of all salons operating at the time. Salon owners now expect relief.
Ric Rooney, who operates an upscale tanning salon in Colorado Springs, Colorado, estimates the tax cost him nearly $100,000 over the past five years. Finances had gotten so tight that last year that he considered closing the shop he had run for about 20 years and retiring.
“We’ve cut prices; we’ve tried cutting hours,” said Rooney, who helped put Obama in office but voted for President Donald Trump because he felt like it was time to see what a businessman could do in the White House. “My wife had to come off the payroll last year.”
After Trump won, Rooney knew there was a good chance the little-known tax would be repealed as the president seeks to make good on his promise to repeal the Obama-era health care law. Rooney, 63, took a risk and invested the money he hopes he will soon save in $200,000 worth of new tanning beds.
The tanning tax is among several taxes and fees Republicans plan to cut in their bid to replace the Affordable Care Act. Insurers, pharmaceutical companies and the wealthy also would benefit under the GOP plan.
The tax also was meant to discourage a practice known to increase the risk of cancer.
Health experts say the tanning tax is for the public good, similar to the high taxes imposed on tobacco products. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network says those who use tanning beds before age 35 increase their lifetime risk of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, by 59 percent.
Dr. Henry Lim, president of the American Academy of Dermatology, said the tax is a needed deterrent.
“There is no doubt there is a significant association with indoor tanning and skin cancer,” Lim said. “A single indoor tanning session would increase the risk of a patient developing skin cancer by 65 percent.”
Congressional experts projected the tax would raise about $2.7 billion over a decade to help expand health coverage for uninsured Americans, but the industry says it actually has raised just a fraction of that.
Salon owners say the tax pushed tanning bed use to less regulated locations such as gyms and private homes, which were exempt.
Its demise would come too late for Lisa Brooking, who owned 10 tanning salons in Indiana.
She lost 35 percent of her revenue from 2010 to 2012 and had to lay off employees. She had planned to leave the business to her two daughters when she retired, but ended up selling the salons because it became too hard to turn a profit.
Brooking, who voted for Trump, said she did not make money in the sale. Instead, she used the proceeds to pay off her debts.
She said the negative publicity surrounding indoor tanning was as harmful to the industry as the tax.
“They made us the villains,” Brooking said, “and in my opinion put us in the same category as cigarettes and alcohol, when in reality 20 minutes in the tanning bed is equal to an hour of the sun.”