Federal debt ceiling fight opens window for device tax opponents

AdvaMed CEO Steve Ubl said he views the latest congressional battle to fund the federal government as an opportunity to win repeal of the 2.3% medical device excise tax.

"We will look at every opportunity to repeal the device tax, such as the continuing resolution [fight] over the debt ceiling," Ubl said during a Sept. 23 press conference to launch the trade group's three-day conference in Washington, DC. "We see that as an opportunity to move this forward."

The industry's fight to eliminate the device tax has become a long-term battle. The tax, in effect since Jan. 1, 2013, is designed as part of the Affordable Care Act to help pay for various provisions of health reform. AdvaMed and other industry groups and supporters believe Congress is finally starting to hear their argument that the tax is killing both jobs and industry. Ubl said there are now more than 260 House sponsors of legislation to repeal the medical device tax, including "almost triple the number of Democrats from last year." And Senate support continues to grow, he said.

Expect some serious lobbying against the tax this week, considering the AdvaMed 2013 conference in Washington, DC, lands right during the congressional fight to keep the federal government running. Current funding expires Sept. 30, though the House passed a bill that would keep government operations in gear until mid-December, but completely defund the Affordable Care Act. That sets up a major budget battle, and this is where Ubl said a device tax repeal can become part of the larger conversation.

"We are going to do everything we can in the coming weeks to keep this on the radar screen in Congress," he said. "We will use this meeting to talk with policy makers ... and some members and CEOs will meet with policymakers while here in town, as Congress focuses on the debt ceiling. We are going to leave no stone unturned in our effort to get this done."

But has AdvaMed proposed an alternative to the device tax? Ubl said the trade group has not, choosing instead to be deferential to Congressional negotiators handling the issue.

Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told a Sept. 24 breakfast crowd at the AdvaMed conference that they are optimistic about passing a device tax repeal before the end of 2013.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include references to Senators Orrin Hatch and Amy Klobuchar and their predictions for passing a device tax repeal.

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