Jeffrey Frentzen

The controversial 2009 economic stimulus legislation, which is part of a series of Congressional bills intended to pump billions of dollars into the US economy to relieve the current economic downturn, will offer virtually no direct benefit for the aesthetic medicine industry.

True, there are provisions for some funding of converting medical records to the new, compulsory electronic format, but from what I hear it is not clear as to who will benefit—probably not the entrepreneurial aesthetic surgeon. And there could be some funding for research and development of new technologies and products that would be of interest to the plastic surgeon.

“Would and could” means that the legislation, as presented now, is underwritten and overhyped to the point that most pundits—even those who believe in the stimulus package with all their heart—are not certain what it contains.

One thing it does not contain: economic relief for plastic surgery practices.

Aesthetic medicine is an economic indicator that shows the trend in consumer spending. Let’s review the 100 years or so of these spending trends. For example, women will—in general—wait no longer than 6 weeks before they feel the need to look better and thereby feel better. The current recession seems to be the first time when women are waiting longer to improve their appearance surgically, opting for lunchtime-type makeovers—lasers, peels, topical antiaging cosmeceuticals, Botox, and fillers.

For a lot of people, there are more pressing health care needs than cosmetic surgery. Prospective patients view aesthetic services as important but not mandatory, unlike treatment of multiple benign medical conditions, cancer, and trauma.

Also, only those with combined incomes below $75,000 are slated to receive any type of tax break via the stimulus package, so many aesthetic patients will not qualify. Cutting payroll taxes across the board may be beneficial, particularly if the government also eliminates or cuts payroll taxes for businesses as well. That could benefit plastic surgery practices, but the legislation is vague on this score.

Continuing on the issue of payroll tax reduction, the average American will receive an additional $13 per week from the stimulus bill, which might allow three trips to Starbucks but is not enough to allow one to pursue aesthetic medicine or surgery options.

When dealing with patients, keep in mind that the mainstream media and government have done their utmost to inject terror and fear into American citizens, scaring them into accepting the stimulus legislation or else there may be a return to the terrible days of the Great Depression.

In reality, the instability and reaction of the stock market are having a much more deleterious effect on most of your practices. People are worried about the continuing decline of their portfolio and are now very concerned about the banking system as well. Prospective patients who don’t even need that extra $13 per week are afraid to spend their money.

Some analysts believe that an improvement in consumers’ disposable income will not occur until the 2010 to 2012 time frame. Therefore, it’s up to you, the individual practitioner, to approach the economic recession—which appears to be a global recession—carefully and smartly. Reassess your business plan and find ways to adjust to the current trends. PSP will continue to publish articles that offer practical information about how to make these adjustments.

See also “Aesthetic Surgery May Rise Above Economy Woes” by Jeffrey Frentzen in the May 2008 issue of PSP.

Market analysts and best-guess predictions mostly agree that the aesthetic medicine market is headed for a growth spurt within the next few years.

In the meantime, in response to current economic trends, many practitioners have turned to offering an increasing number of less expensive cosmetic procedures as a way to grow revenue.

In addition, some people aren’t all that affected by the down economy. The vast majority of people who still have jobs and make their monthly mortgage payments are looking for bargains in aesthetic procedures. They will find them, and if you promote your business properly, then they may find their way to your practice.

Some patients are getting early retirement buyouts but aren’t done working their jobs. They will take that severance package and have cosmetic surgery while they are looking for their next gig.

Jeffrey Frentzen
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