Tanning salon owners are keeping an eye on Washington, wondering whether health care reform will include a tax increase for them.
The Senate-passed bill includes a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning to help pay for extending health care coverage to those without it.
It's a cost that Wichita tanning salon owners say they can't absorb.
"Small businesses are hit right now as it is, and one more tax is not what we need," said Kay Waite, owner of Tan-Do at 550 N. Rock Road.
Cathy Bloss, whose family opened Maui Tan at 1317 N. Maize Road five months ago, said, "We're hoping it's not going to happen. But (if it does), ultimately it's going to be passed along to the customer — it has to be."
Health care reform is on hold for now, with lawmakers waiting to see what President Obama says tonight in his State of the Union address.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has said Democrats have four options: no bill, a scaled-back measure designed to attract some Republican support, the House passing the Senate bill, or the House passing the Senate bill with both chambers making changes to bridge their differences.
Local tanning salon owners are asking their representatives in Washington not to include a tax on them in any final legislation.
The tanning tax replaced an earlier proposed tax on cosmetic plastic surgery procedures after intense lobbying.
Jennifer Chambers, who owns two Caribbean Sun locations and who franchised two others, said she offered customers a week of free tanning if they'd contact their representatives about the tax.
"I gave away probably 400 free weeks of tanning" as a result, she said. "Nobody wants to see taxes go up, no matter what industry it is."
Chambers said new salons and tanning businesses with only one location would be hit especially hard.
Bloss agreed with that assessment. As a new business, she said, she doesn't have a big enough customer base to absorb the tax. "I think it will really hurt us," she said.
The International Smart Tan Network, a trade association, has estimated the tax could force 1,000 tanning businesses to shut down.
"If you're business-savvy, you can work around it and stay in business," Chambers said. "(But) yes, it will hurt, and each owner will hurt differently."
Waite said that if the tax is approved, it probably will mean she works more hours and doesn't hire more people. She has one full-time and two part-time employees.
If the tax does go through, Chambers and Bloss predicted, it won't be the last of its kind.
"It's going to be an open door," Bloss said, with hair salons and similar businesses being the next in line.
Chambers said she just spent hundreds of dollars on supplies for her business, money that she said she would have chosen not to spend had a tax been approved. "It's just a chain reaction," she said, "no matter how you look at it."