Saturday, September 22, 2007

Universal Health Care & The Fat Tax

I managed to catch a few minutes of the Democratic Party debates on TV the other night.

The one thing most, if not all Democratic Party Candidates appear to be in agreement on is some form of Universal Health care. What they tended to disagree on was the extent to which this entitlement would be implemented, and who would actually pay for it.

I looked pretty hard at Clinton's America's Health Choices Plan site and really couldn't find anything about exactly what this would cost, or exactly how we would pay for it, but I WAS NOT HEARING THINGS when she mentioned that at least some of the burden would be placed on employers.

This is understandable. It's wrong, of course, but understandable. Most Americans work for small businesses, and small business employers are far too focused on products, services, customers, clients, and employees to have any time left over to fight with the government. Only as Republicans are they potentially united.

But if Democrats want to make health care an entitlement, then the government should pay for it. And yes, that means taxes.

Fortunately, this is not a hard problem to solve for a Health Conscious Fitness Professional! It's called the Fat Tax, and it's pretty simple: foods sold with high volumes of fat or unacceptable levels of saturated or trans fats would simply be taxed appropriately.

"American Demographics" states that Americans spent $125 Billion in 2001 on fast food alone. If we suppose, very conservatively, that just 25% of this amount is unhealthy highly saturated fat or trans fat food, this amounts to $31Billion being spent annually on INCREASING the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, coronary heart failure, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and cancer. And that's where the big money is spent on health care. Not to mention the corollary costs like twisted ankles from lost dexterity, increased sick time, lost job productivity, and extra trips to the doctors office for medications.

Tax this $31B at 100% I say, and we now have $31 B./year to start with. Hillary's plan, if I remember right was $112B/yr.

But that's just fast food. Not counted in that are all the Oreos, Doritos and Ball Park Franks passing through the grocery food checkout lines. "American Demographics" states that Americans spent $665 Billion on food in 1996. Take population and inflationary factors into account and it's probably $800B now, but let's use the $665B for grins.

If you take out the $31B spent on Fast food, that leaves roughly $$634B/yr. on Other Food.

If we, again, very conservatively, say that just 10% of this other food has unhealthy levels of fat, we have another $63B of taxable food items. If we GENEROUSLY only tax this at 50%, we have another $31B/yr. in tax income.

Personally, I vote that we take this $62B and spend it all on exercise, nutrition, and food preparation PROACTIVE AND PREVENTATIVE PROGRAMS, at all levels of education and community, but that'll be my soap box for another day.

THE FAT TAX would, of course, require testing, verifications, policing, and policy, but if Wallmart can have a supplier in China INSTANTLY order additional aluminum to build a spoke that's part of a wheel on a bike that just passed through the scanner at the cash register in Fargo, we can build this system.

The technology is easy, and the argument makes sense. Really, this is no different than the tobacco and alcohol "sin" tax argument.

The problem and challenge is finding someone (or more likely a constituency) to stand up against the $665 Billion Food Industry in Washington. That's a lot of money and you can bet that Super Value, MacDonald's, Kraft, Hershey's and Frito Lay won't be nodding politely to taxing their unhealthy products. After all, they make a lot of money on selling products that increase health care costs. So did/do RJ Reynolds and Budweiser. But at least RJR and Bud are now paying their taxes.

The time has come for The Fat Tax. But where will we get the next Wellstone?

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