Paying for Health Care

So Paul Krugman has made an excellent, if rather snarky, point in a recent column on the state of the government budget. If Barak Obama does follow through on his promises for middle class tax relief while only raising taxes on the very rich how will he pay for universal health care? As the last post on this blog points out this is not just a Democratic problem. If John McCain intends to provide people with chronic conditions access to affordable health insurance he will need to spend significant sums.

Now Wonks Anonymous recognizes that no candidate since Walter Mondale has promised to increase taxes, nevertheless he also sees that Obama or McCain will probably need to raise taxes somewhere in order to finance major health care reform. He therefore offers this suggestion, which the reader may feel free to pass along: Tax high fructose corn syrup and other manufactured sweeteners.

Over the past three decades the United States has seen a steady increase in average weight. At the same time, and probably not coincidentally, the national consumption of manufactured foods and food like substances has also increased. Manufactured sweeteners are a popular ingredient in these products not only because they are cheap but also because they have a strong instinctive appeal.

Our inner ape tastes fructose and believes that it is getting a balanced nutritional package rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. This belief, which occurs well below our rational mind, is difficult if not impossible to combat.

Now we all should know that obesity is a serious medical condition leading to high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes among other things. The medical consequences of these conditions are both painful and highly expensive. Any intervention that will discourage the consumption of empty calories and reduce our national weight should have important benefits both economically and in terms of quality of life.

A tax on high fructose corn sweeteners would play on our avarice in order to combat our gluttony. If we raise the price of a six pack of soft drinks or a carton of pudding cups by fifty cents or a dollar, if we increase the cost of two dozen mega muffins by two dollars, we will discourage the consumption of these products. This will ultimately have an impact on our national health.

In the meantime we can use the revenue from these taxes to help pay for health care. What could be fairer? Those whose behavior put their health at particular risk would also be paying a higher share of the bill.

Now Wonks Anonymous does not expect that any conservatives, who might have stumbled on this blog by accident, will like this idea, although he is frankly mystified by this. He is under the general impression that conservative health reforms, for example John McCain's proposal, are based in part on the idea that if you increase the financial consequences of unhealthy behaviors then you will discourage these behaviors.

As far as I can tell the argument works something like this: If people see that overeating or smoking will not only make them physically miserable in the long run but also cause them significant financial hardship, they will change these behaviors and become healthier. 

Wonks Anonymous is skeptical of this particular argument. He has never found this to be true of himself or the people he knows As an average ape descendant he is not particularly gifted with foresight nor does the uncertain anticipation of large future costs do much to change his behavior. He is getting better about this but . . .

He does, however, tend to respond to small things. He has, for example, always known that custard filled maple bars are not particularly good for him. His excellent personal physician - thank you Dr. Hsu - is careful to remind him to watch his weight. His consumption of these items nevertheless remained stable until the price recently rose by 50%.

Now the National Corn Sweeteners Council will probably object to this proposal as unfair to the poor, depriving their children of the benefits of soft drinks and mega muffins on demand. Wonks Anonymous is sensitive to this problem and also does not want to deprive the entrepreneurs who lead our society of the benefits of dietary discipline. He proposes that when we put a tax on manufactured sweeteners we also discourage gluttony among the better classes. We could eliminate the tax deduction on business entertainment.

 

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  • 9/8/2008 5:16 PM Wonks Anonymous wrote:
    Since I wrote this post the corn refiners council has started a major ad campaign in defense of high fructose corn chemicals.

    Their major point - which I sympathize with to a certain extent - is that these chemicals are probably the same to our bodies as refined cane sugars.

    The Federal Government, however participates in a program designed to raise the price of cane sugar and other forms of refined sucrose. It is called sugar quotas and the revenues go to domestic sugar producers.

    I would be happy to see this program discontinued and all forms of refined sugar taxed equally with the revenue going to the health care fund.

    that would discourage the overuse of all of these food additives.
    Reply to this
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