Trimming Fat Two Ways

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 21, 2004 | Go to article overview

Trimming Fat Two Ways


Byline: Michael Cannon and Radley Balko, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a study purporting to link increased soda consumption with weight gain. This comes on the heels of studies linking obesity to urban sprawl, longer commutes to work, time in front of the television, time on the Internet, not enough physical education in schools, vending machines in schools, marketing and advertising of junk food to children, and countless other trends, foods, habits and [in]activities.

Unfortunately, a slew of nutrition activists and nanny-statists want to use the fact some Americans are getting bigger to limit what the rest of can eat. So we're seeing lawsuits against food companies, calls for "fat taxes" on calorie-dense eatables, and moves to restrict advertising and marketing of junk food.

We oppose these measures, and prefer that people be free to make their own decisions about diet and lifestyle and also bear the consequences of those decisions.

But there are things we can do about health insurance that could increase personal responsibility and harness the free-market power to encourage good decisions on diet and activity.

There are legal barriers against health insurers assigning risk in premiums as is done with auto and life insurance premiums. Many states require that health insurers charge the same premiums for any member of a group health plan, regardless of risk. This means the costs of the donuts-and-pizza couch potato's unhealthy decisions are imposed on the gym rat who diets carefully and watches his cholesterol.

Removing these barriers would encourage health insurers to begin experimenting with carrot-and-stick approaches to healthy lifestyles. One company might give premium discounts for gym memberships, for example. Another might foot the bill for nutritional counseling. In short, health insurers would compete with each other to contrive a system that best balances the consumer health and self-interest.

At an obesity summit last June, Health and Human Service Secretary Tommy Thompson said there are no federal restrictions on so-called "medical underwriting." His counsel's office has confirmed there are neither federal laws against it nor binding court decisions or federal regulations.

Congress can help eliminate state laws that encourage unhealthy lifestyles by enacting legislation similar to the Health Care Choice Act, sponsored by Rep. …

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