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Chain email

A hidden provision in Obamacare taxes sporting goods as medical devices.

Chain email on Wednesday, June 12th, 2013 in an email

Chain email claims the health care law contains a hidden tax on sporting goods

PolitiFact started checking claims about the three-year-old Affordable Care Act, the health care law often called Obamacare, before the legislation became law.

The checked statements have rated from True to Pants on Fire! on the Truth-O-Meter, but falsehoods have often drowned out the truths.Though some of the law's provisions have gone into effect, and many of its biggest features kick in next year, polls show the public still has a hard time understanding what's in it.

We've looked repeatedly at the most persistent claims, and have seen many of them evolve. We at PolitiFact Ohio thought we had a new claim this month, when a reader forwarded a chain email we hadn't seen before.

We looked into it, saw it dealt with a subject familiar to us, and found that it has been examined by our friends at the nonpolitical Snopes.com and several other rumor-checking sites.

The email is built on a sales receipt from Cabela's, the Nebraska-based outdoor merchandise chain whose locations include Ohio.

The receipt, like one posted by Snopes.com, shows a charge for a "medical excise tax."

The chain email claims that Cabela's has "refused to hide" the charge, which is "supposed to be hidden from the consumer."

It goes on to say that the medical excise tax is "hidden in Obamacare," and that it applies to certain medical devices starting Jan. 1, 2013.

Quoting an IRS publication on excise taxes, the email asks: "What do I find under 'medical devices' under 'manufacturers taxes'?"

In answer, it lists: "Sport fishing equipment; fishing rods and fishing poles; electric outboard motors; fishing tackle boxes; bows, quivers,  broadheads and points; arrow shafts; coal; taxable tires; gas guzzler automobiles, and vaccines."

Let's take the parts of the claim separately.

First, it is true that there is a 2.3 percent tax on the first sale of certain medical devices in the Affordable Care Act, but it is not hidden. We've done at least six fact-checks about it, starting in October 2009, and it has been cited in numerous print and broadcast ads by opponents of the health care law, including a spot for presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The tax is one of the provisions in the law that offset the added costs of expanding health coverage to the uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The tax does not apply to eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, bandages or other medical devices "generally purchased by the general public at retail for individual use," the law states.

The tax does not apply to devices made for export. It does apply to imported devices as well as those made domestically.

The Internal Revenue Service has posted information about what constitutes a taxable medical device.

None of the items listed in the chain email are included. Those items are listed by the IRS as being subject to excise taxes that predate the health care act and have nothing to do with it.


Contrary to the emailer's claim, the items are not listed under "medical devices" by the IRS.

So why the charge on the receipt from Cabela's?

The company earlier gave an explanation to its hometown  Scottsbluff Star-Herald newspaper. And it confirmed to us that it was reported accurately.

A Cabela's spokesman blamed a companywide "glitch" in its sales register system. The problem added a 2.3 percent "medical excise tax" to all purchases at its stores on Jan. 1.

The error was caught the same day, the spokesman said, and the charges would be refunded.

Vendors typically use new sales software at the start of a year to handle changes in tax laws, Snopes.com noted. Even though the cost of taxes are typically passed along to consumers, however, the medical device excise tax applies only to manufacturers and importers, not to consumers.

Like many chain emails, the one about Cabela’s mixes fact with falsehood.

The  fact is the existence of the medical device excise tax, effective on Jan. 1, as part of the Affordable Care Act. But there the accuracy ends.

The tax is not hidden. It does not apply to consumer products. The emailer’s "proof" of the claim that it does is actually, at best, an erroneous interpretation of an IRS posting on other excise taxes.

Finally, Cabela’s told the Star-Herald that its charge was the erroneous result of a software "glitch," and the money would be refunded.

The email is not accurate, and its preposterous claim that fishing tackle, tires and gas-guzzling cars are classified as "medical devices" puts it in another category: Pants on Fire!

About this statement:

Published: Friday, June 14th, 2013 at 6:00 a.m.

Subjects: Health Care, Taxes


PolitiFact, "The National Republican Senatorial Committee says the health care law slapped Ohio small businesses with a $500 billion tax increase," April 20, 2012

Snopes.com, "Medical device excise tax," Feb. 20, 2013

Urban Legends, "Medical Excise Tax in Obamacare," Feb. 19, 2013

Internal Revenue Service, "Excise Taxes," July 2012

Internal Revenue Service, "Medical Device Excise Tax: Frequently Asked Questions," May 22, 2013

Scottsbluff (Neb.) Star-Herald, "Cabela’s blames ‘glitch’ for Jan. 1 tax error, promises refunds,"  Jan. 9, 2013

PolitiFact, "Conservative blogger says proposed tax could hit wide array of medical devices,"  Oct. 9, 2009

PolitiFact, "Crossroad GPS says the $1.17-trillion health care law Sherrod Brown backed taxes manufacturers," Aug. 30, 2012

FactCheck.org, "Again with the Wheelchair," Aug. 24, 2012

PolitiFact, "Everything you want to know about the health care law," March 23, 2012

Written by: Tom Feran
Researched by: Tom Feran
Edited by: Jane Kahoun

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