Answering healthcare providers’ indirect tax FAQs

Medical equipment, supplies, and devices – your tax questions answered.

Three women executives sit at a conference room table, discussing business.

Delivering excellent patient care is the primary focus of healthcare providers. However, indirect taxes on items used for that care can sometimes create challenges. As a Product Manager, I hear first-hand from our customers about the specific challenges they face in tax compliance. To help you better understand, I’ve answered some FAQs on the topic. 

Let’s start with the basics. What do we mean when we say medical items sold to healthcare providers?  

Medical items sold to healthcare providers could be diagnostic equipment such as EKG equipment, MRI equipment or pulse oximeters, as well as patient treatment items such as orthopaedic traction supplies, pacemakers and prosthetics. These are business-to-business (B2B) items used in the healthcare setting rather than anything you or I would buy at a supermarket or pharmacy for home healthcare use. 

What companies or organisations need help with indirect taxes on healthcare items? 

Usually when people think of healthcare providers, global hospitals and systems or long-term care centres come to mind. However, there are also outpatient medical facilities and physician’s offices that purchase medical equipment, wholesalers of medical equipment and group purchasing organisations (GPOs).  

What’s interesting is that usually companies with a high number of employees who could become sick or injured on the job – think manufacturing, distribution and logistics facilities – use items such as face masks, heating pads, non-surgical gloves, and even hospital beds and bed rails. These organisations are also subject to pay tax on those items as well. Additionally, they may be eligible for reduced rates or exemptions if they meet the definition of a healthcare provider.  

What makes indirect taxes for healthcare unique? 

In this space, indirect tax is definition driven, meaning there are a whole host of nuances that impact what the tax rate will be. This includes whether the item is intended to affect the structure or function of the body; if it’s used to treat an illness, injury, or a part of a limb or internal body part; whether it’s disposable (single use vs. reusable); and even if a replacement part is treated for tax purposes like the original item.  

For example, a catheter will be taxed based on various specifications such as size and material used. Different tax rates may apply depending on the type of medical procedure a catheter is used for. Fun fact, Vertex supports more than 30 taxability categories for catheters – and that’s just one instrument. Think of how many different medical items healthcare providers use daily (and we have now covered this globally), so it is a lot of data to help medical equipment manufacturers, distributors and healthcare organisations get it right.  

Why is it essential to accurately account for and pay taxes in the healthcare industry? 

Tax compliance is an obvious reason; healthcare providers want to avoid audit fines and penalties. But also, what makes this industry unique is that there are many reduced tax rates and exemptions. Healthcare is considered essential by many taxing authorities. Many healthcare providers hire third-party advisory professionals to help reclaim overpaid taxes because they were charged the standard rate by the manufacturer. I have heard of situations where companies go back two or three years in their records to reclaim between $20,000 to $200,000 per healthcare location. Imagine if they used that money for other healthcare purposes. Reclaiming overpaid taxes adds to administrative strain in terms of both time and resources. More than once, I have heard that submitting a refund claim for taxes has spurred an audit by the same authority. If a healthcare provider can get it right up front, they avoid both the administration and fees for the refund claim and they may avoid an audit. 

How is Vertex helping healthcare providers better manage tax obligations?  

Taxation of healthcare items is complex and keeping track of different rules and rates is not something healthcare providers, with limited time and staff, want to take on. To help, we offer Vertex O Series for Medical, which provides accurate tax content to reduce risk and increase efficiency throughout the buying, selling and billing lifecycles. Vertex O Series for Medical has over 400 global taxability categories for medical equipment, devices and supplies sold to healthcare providers. 

What makes Vertex O Series for Medical different from other options in the market? 

Vertex O Series for Medical stands out because of its breadth and granularity. Our content covers an extensive range of items used daily in healthcare settings to meet our customers' complex tax requirements. Vertex O Series for Medical is powered by our extensive research department, increasing accuracy in upstream processes to reduce negative downstream impacts such as costly reclaim, audit defence and adjustments. 

How can healthcare providers learn more about it? 

Navigate to our Vertex O Series for Medical page to learn more. Additional information can also be found in one of my recent blogs – Taming tax complexity in the medical equipment, devices & supplies segment.

Blog Author

Karen Schroeder

Karen Schroeder

Vice President of Product Management

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Karen Schroeder is the Vice President of Product Management, focusing on Content Line of Business. Together, Karen and her team identify and grow global content acquisition and delivery strategy, as well as establish and manage revenue targets for premium content offerings. Prior to joining Vertex, she held various positions at EY, Hallmark Cards and Yellow Transportation. Karen is a CPA and has a B.S. in Accounting from Truman State University.

Vertex O Series for Medical

Automate and streamline tax determination on global medical equipment, devices, and supplies.

Vertex O Series for Medical