Health Care Trojan Horse For Fascism (Episode 36)

I have written on this topic any number of times, warning that when government pays the health care bills, said payments gives it nearly infinite room to label just about any individual behavior as "costly" to the health care system and therefore fair game for micro-regulation.

Via a reader:

If you happen to be the 1-in-3 Americans who is neither obese nor overweight (and, thus, considered at risk of becoming obese), you might well conclude that the habits of the remaining two-thirds of Americans are costing you, big time. U.S. life expectancies are expected to slide backward, after years of marching upward. (But that's their statistical problem: Yours is how to make them stop costing you all that extra money because they are presumably making poor choices in their food consumption.)

"Facing the serious consequences of an uncontrolled obesity epidemic, America's state and federal  policy makers may need to consider interventions every bit as forceful as those that succeeded in cutting adult tobacco use by more than 50%," the Urban Institute report says. It took awhile -- almost 50 years from the first surgeon general's report on tobacco in 1964 -- to drive smoking down. But in many ways, the drumbeat of scientific evidence and the growing cultural stigma against obesity already are well underway -- as any parent who has tried to bring birthday cupcakes into her child's classroom certainly knows.

Key among the "interventions" the report weighs is that of imposing an excise or sales tax on fattening foods. That, says the report, could be expected to lower consumption of those foods. But it would also generate revenues that could be used to extend health insurance coverage to the uninsured and under-insured, and perhaps to fund campaigns intended to make healthy foods more widely available to, say, low-income Americans and to encourage exercise and healthy eating habits.

Please, please note the text in bold.  They have made overeating a crime with a victim - people who are thin are victims of those who are overweight, and therefore can call on the government to take swift action to protect them.  Eek!  And the LA Times is clearly in love with the idea.   Is it any wonder my chief concern about government health care is not the costs, but the threats to individual liberty?

John Stoessel has further comments.

For those of you comfortably thin who chose to ignore this as not your problem, consider this:  If an overweight person is a threat to a thin person, via the health care charges he might burden taxpayers with, what about, say, a skier?  I don't chose to participate in dangerous sports, so isn't a skier doing a crime against me by the same logic for taking a risk of a potentially expensive injury?  How about a person whose hobby involves dangerous tools.  If TJIC cuts his finger off on his band saw, isn't that costing me money in our new socialist regime?  What about bike riding, or motorcycle riding, or rock climbing, or rugby?  What about any parent that lets their kid play somewhere they could get hurt and cost us mone?

This is why government health care is so dangerous  -- it takes what should be individual decisions with individual consequences and socializes the costs of our personal choices.  Once the costs are socialized, won't control of the choices themselves follow?

Postscript: Again going into morbid mode here, obesity may increase costs for younger patients, but its higher early morbidity actually can reduce lifetime costs.  Basically, morbidly obese people tend to die more often before they grow old enough to get expensive cancers and such.  Several studies have shown lifetime costs for the obese to be lower than for other folks.

Which is not to say that obesity is good, so please do not misunderstand my point.  I would work hard to help someone I loved who was morbidly overweight to get in better health.  Obesity can be bad but its a crappy excuse to take another axe to our free society.

  • Methinks

    Coyote,

    The obese don't die early enough to be cost savers. Smokers die early and quickly and are huge cost savers (perhaps Obamacare will start handing out cigarettes in grade school). The Obese develop chronic and expensive diseases they end up living with for decades. This is the first time I've ever heard that they may cost less. Every study I've ever seen says the opposite.

    I agree with everything else in your post.

  • http://sailorette.blogspot.com Foxfier

    Small cars.

    Driving fast-- extra tax on traffic tickets.

    Having risky genetics, especially if you reproduce. (hits close for me-- my mom's family has heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer)

    Here's some stuff on morbid obesity
    http://www.bariatric-surgery.info/health-risks-of-obesity.htm (yeah, I know, they're selling "get skinny"-- but the info seems sound enough)
    Arguments on savings should probably focus on this group, since it's less stupid than a lot of other classes of obesity.
    (A lot of my Marines were "obese"-- legally defined, because of muscle weight.)
    (Anything that calculates folks' health from their height and weight, ignoring even their sex, let alone their build, has already got warning flags all over it for me....)

    50% increased death rate is some pretty decent savings.

  • Dr. T

    We have an obesity epidemic mostly because the CDC and the NIH redefined obesity shortly after the millennium. The new definition nearly doubled the number of obese people overnight. The definition of overweight also resulted in a big increase in that population. Based on the new data, if I weigh 4 pounds more than my wrestling weight in college, I am overweight. Almost every professional athlete is overweight or even obese. The obesity standard is a total joke because it ignores muscle mass.

    Second, overweight people have the lowest risk of dying and the longest lifespan. Skinny people have a higher risk of dying and a lower lifespan than "normal" weight people and overweight people. Only the heaviest half of the obese population has an increased risk of dying and a lower lifespan. The lightest half of the obese population has about the same lifespan as skinny people.

    Is anyone surprised that our government lies about this topic? Almost every piece of information the CDC releases on obesity and nutrition is wrong. They get the diet stuff wrong, too. The major contributor to obesity is not fat. It is too much sugar and simple starches. Fat (in moderate quantities) is helpful because it is slow to digest and it triggers the satiety center of the brain. In other words, eating fat makes you feel full sooner and helps you avoid snacking after meals. But, all the government diet literature demonizes fat and emphasizes those helpings of breads and fruits. This information has been available for many years, so I can only conclude that the government, at this time, wants to induce obesity. Shortly after ObamaCare, the feds will crack down on the obesity epidemic it helped create.

  • Me

    While I agree specifically with the personal liberty angle, ultimately, the total cost of obesity/parachuting/pick-your-poison will be socialized via taxes. Attempts to relate the cost with the causes more specifically can be economic (ie: tax foods based on caloric content, funnel the money into funding healthcare).

  • Michael

    I'd like to know 2 ratios. Democrat to Republican food stamp users. And percent overweight food stamp users to non food stamp users. I'm betting that taxes on "fattening" foods would lead to cries to increase food stamp allotments.

  • spiro

    Excuse my French, but this shit scares me. I've worked in the fitness industry most of my career and I work hard to keep myself in better shape than probably 95% of the population. However, I come from genetically large people and, with the extra muscle I carry around, I am overweight to nearly obese according to standard height and weight charts (that haven't been adjusted in what, 70 years?).

    Some would say "but Spiro, they are only taxing the 'bad' foods, why should you care?" My answer is - what makes you think they'll stop there? Especially when, just like smoking, the extra tax does nothing to deter the practice.

    Moreover, why aren't there more historians and well-educated people coming out in outrage against this type of legislation. Am I the only one that sees this as a BIG step toward the government controlling our personal appearance? I mean, it's not quite eugenics, but....

  • Mikey G

    The charts call me obese as well. Nevermind I do an ironman triathlon every year and can bench 1.5X my body weight. I am nothing but a fatty, best to put an extra tax on me. I think a 5% surcharge should do it.

  • http://tjic.com TJIC

    > If TJIC cuts his finger off on his band saw, isn’t that costing me money in our new socialist regime?

    Part of the problem with socialization is that moralization enters into the discussion of what is an "invalid" externality and what is not.

    If our left-wing blue-state pseudo-intellectual overlords decide to tax or forbid externality producing activities, they will remember to ban motorcycle riding sans helmets (or, perhaps just motorcycle riding), bull riding, mixed martial arts, etc., but will have no problem with proper and sophisticated blue state activities like rock climbing, eco tourism, sexual promiscuity, etc.

    Put the right wing authoritarians in charge, and the reverse would be enacted.

    There's no difference between a broken neck from being thrown off a motorcycle and from falling off a rock face.

    There's no difference between arteries clogged from Dunkin Donuts and artiers clogged from Bearnaise sauce.

    ...but the government officials would see one, sure as heck.

  • Methinks

    Dr.T,

    I always learn something from your posts. Did the number of obese suddenly increase when they began using the BMI as the measure? I don't know if you happen to know whether the number of the dangerously obese is increasing as a percentage of the population.

  • spiro

    Another point on this that occurred to me while grocery shopping last night. Will this tax only be placed on prepared foods? Because, if it is also placed on grocery items, then we'll have a HUGE problem determining which foods should be taxed. Avocados and almonds, both widely accepted as 'healthy' foods, are also high in fats and calories/mass. Or, how about olive oil, it is 100% fat.

    Once we give some agency, be it congress or the FDA, the power to create a rubric for determining the 'healthy level' of foods, lobbyists and bribes from Big Food can't be far behind.

    Not to mention the increased food prices having a greater impact on lower income families.

  • Joe Teicher

    I dunno. this just doesn't bother me too much. The government is going to tax. The only questions are what activities is it going to tax and how much. Most of the taxes we pay hit productive activities (working, investing) that are very hard to avoid if you want to live in this society. Taxing unhealthy foods or risky behaviors seems pretty benign next to taxing income.

  • http://sailorette.blogspot.com Foxfier

    Methinks-
    they re-defined 'obese' fairly recently. This is a pretty decent chunk of info that should help if you want a starting point for more research.

  • http://thebastidge.blogspot.com thebastidge

    My buddy and I have been discussing this issue of teen-to-20-something slackers skating their way through our checking accounts with injuries, all taken care of by the new socialist vision of medical care for the masses.

    Joe Teicher: Taxing income may be a disincentive in a generalized fashion, but people often innovate around it, or ignore the disncentive because of their personal drive to be useful and relevant, to be good, worthwhile, useful people.

    Regulating with more specificity penalizes good ideas more than bad ideas- because people can generally recognize a bad idea and the majority tends to avoid it anyway. So legislators will focus on regulating the specific behaviours that they personally have an axe to grind against, and this will add an extra-high barrier to activities that have steep trade-offs but are evaluated on an individual level to be worth the trade-off.

    Generalized income taxes lower the benefits for everyone, but specific regulation cuts out the margins, where most of the innovation takes place. People will still have to trudge in to work to feed themselves, but drudgery will make up a greater part of the workforce, with rewarding work that advances the human race stultifying.

  • Me

    Another interesting take on the healtcare debate. Bit funny at that: http://www.newsweek.com/id/209817?digg=1