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Tariffs and Hip Replacements

Seriously, the NYT ran a piece with the headline, “why Trump’s tariffs could raise the cost of a hip replacement.” The point of the piece is that we now import a substantial amount of medical equipment and devices from China. This means that if we have to pay 25 percent more, then the price of these items in the United States will be higher. This means that operations like hip replacements that might require some equipment now purchased from China will cost more.

Okay, let’s try to use some numbers here. The piece tells us that we import $3 billion a year in medical equipment from China. According to the Commerce Department, we spent over $90 billion on medical equipment and devices last year (National Income and Product Accounts, Table 5.5.5U, Line 6). This means that the items imported from China came to a bit more than 3 percent of the total.

If the tariffs are passed on in full (a very questionable assumption, both because of the large market here and the fact that actual production costs are a small fraction of the price of these patent protected items), then the price of medical equipment would rise on average about 0.8 percent. Most of the cost of major surgeries like hip replacements go to the doctor and hospital, not the artificial device, but let’s say that half of the cost is the device itself.

This means that the cost of your hip replacement surgery will rise by a whopping 0.4 percent as a result of the Trump tariffs! The NYT should look for some better ammunition if it wants to seriously push its case.

This piece originally ran on Beat the Press.

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Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

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