June 7 2012
Obamacare and Food
Philip Klein at The Examiner has a must-read editorial this morning examining the connection between Obamacare and food regulations. Klein, of course, highlights Mayor Bloomberg's recent embarrassing (to both the Mayor and all New Yorkers) soda ban but warns us that while Mayor Bloomberg has become a national laughingstock, there's a lesson to be learned about the dangers of government-run health care in Bloomberg's foolish move:
Sure, it's fun to mock the arbitrary nature of the mayor's proposed rules. For instance, the regulations would ban coffee with sugar above 16 ounces but allow a sugary cappuccino or latte of any size so long as it's 51 percent milk. The rules don't allow consumers to purchase a Big Gulp, but they permit them to have as many free refills as they want.
Bloomberg almost seemed to engage in self-parody when he mused on Twitter this week, "Is purchasing two 16 ounce sodas too much of an inconvenience to help reverse a national health catastrophe?"
More telling, Bloomberg highlighted a comment from a supporter of the ban, who wrote, "Anyone who pays taxes and thus bears the health care costs of obesity should support this."
In a free society, individuals are able to take risks and make decisions detrimental to their own well-being -- be it smoking, drinking, excessive eating or anything else -- because they'll bear the ultimate costs of their decisions. But when government assumes a greater role in the health care system, suddenly there's a societal cost to individual risks. This provides an opening for those who believe in a paternalistic role for government to make their regulations seem pragmatic. Bloomberg used the "health care costs to taxpayers" argument during his previous drives to ban smoking in bars and restaurants and to outlaw the use of trans-fats.
Klein predicts an uptick in government needling us to get in shape once Obamacare goes into effect. He warns:
More detailed information on the contents of your kid's Happy Meal may seem harmless now, but if Obamacare goes into effect and the government becomes desperate for ways to control health care costs, it's inevitable that lawmakers will go much further. Perhaps they will mandate exercise, or require Americans to maintain a certain waist size. Sound unrealistic? In 2008, Japan, which has a government-run health care system, passed a law requiring waist sizes no greater than 33 1/2 inches for men and 35 1/2 inches for women.
I encountered this exact argument while a guest on liberal radio program The Thom Hartmann Show. Discussing obesity with the radio host is a lesson in how the left views Americans--helpless, stupid, poor, overworked, unable to read (food labels), exhausted, and simply incapable of steering their cars away from fast food take-out lanes. Hartmann also believes food regulations are key to reducing health care costs repeating that familiar lefty line (I'm paraphrasing) that as long as taxpayers are paying for your health care costs, what you put in your mouth is no longer a personal matter--it's a public health matter and taxpayers have a right to demand you put your fork down.
Of course, I responded to this tired argument by saying he's highlighting the very reason government should get out of the healthcare business and tried to explain that Congress needs to bring market forces and competition back into healthcare. That is the only way to control costs. Weirdly, Hartmann wasn't convinced.
Klein agrees, saying the way to combat obesity isn't through government fiat but through market-based reforms that will naturally incentivize healthier behavior.
Right now, because most medical coverage is tied to Americans' employment, insurance companies don't have much interest in their customers' long-term health. Given how frequently Americans change jobs, insurers make the logical calculation that any given beneficiary is likely to end up on some other employers' policy within a few years.
If, however, lawmakers changed the quirk in the tax code that perpetuates the employer-based insurance system, individuals would be able to own their own health insurance policies. Suddenly, insurers would have more interest in their beneficiaries' long-term health, because they might have them as clients for decades. Insurers could offer discounts to those who are trimmer, don't smoke and so on, just as car insurers offer incentives for safer driving.
Klein's right to warn Americans that nanny-state regulations like Bloomberg's soda ban are no laughing matter. We need to understand that our ability to live our lives, our ability to take risks and live freely is in danger. Obamacare will only increase the government's appetite to control the way you live and they won't stop at the kitchen door. Behavior the government doesn't approve of will be banned.
So say goodbye to your bucket list of bungee jumping, skydiving, paragliding, blow-fish eating, and swimming with the sharks. Uncle Sam simply doesn't approve of such risky behavior.