Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ending the Health Care Crisis Simply and Quickly

As I listen to President Obama talk about his health care plans, I start to think about some possible ways to raise money for it, and possibly even to eliminate the need for government intervention in the first place. I'm not questioning the need for change--we definitely need to do something. Are these ideas perfect? Probably not. The suggestions add to government oversight of our lives and to our tax burden, and I'm not so sure I like that. But I'll put them out here anyway, because Americans can't, won't, or don't take care of their own health. If Americans would take personal responsibility for their own health by exercising, eating right, not smoking, and finding a way to relieve stress, I don't think there would be a need for any sort of huge health care program. Be that as it may, changes apparently must come from outside, because too many Americans are unable or unwilling to make them personally.

First, cigarette smokers bear a huge tax burden because their habit is politically and socially unpopular. I'm not questioning that. Smoking stinks, raises the risk of cancer, and harms those in the vicinity through second-hand smoke. But why only smokers? Right now, obesity is one of the largest (pun intended!) health concerns in the United States. There should be small taxes on fast food (read or watch Supersize Me or Fast Food Nation), candy and other unhealthy snacks, soft drinks, and alcohol. These taxes could be phased in, but if enough items are taxed, then the taxes on the individual items wouldn't have to be very large to raise impressive amounts of money. Anything to encourage people to adopt healthier eating habits (including yours truly!) would help Americans make steps toward better individual health. Taxation of cigarettes has cut the number of smokers dramatically. Perhaps doing the same to the unhealthy items I've listed would do the same for their use.

Second, use that tax money to fund more opportunities for people to live healthy lives. Use it to build bike paths and even sidewalks in neighborhoods that lack them. Use it to buy bikes that can be shared by people in poor neighborhoods. Use it to pay for part of people's memberships to health clubs, but make sure that those people are using that membership wisely. Use it to subsidize healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, not the producers of high fructose corn syrup. Use it to help schools hire enough physical education teachers that all kids from kindergarteners through high school seniors can take classes which may provide their only exercise all day. Use it to fund drug treatment programs. Maybe even use it to give tax refunds to people who succeed in making themselves more healthy by quitting smoking, lowering their cholesterol, losing weight, or making similar improvements in their health. Using the money in people's own neighborhoods, so they can see its impact directly in their lives, as opposed to sending it to large entities like insurance companies and health care providers, will go a long way toward encouraging healthier lifestyles.

People are always saying that they want government out of their lives--until they need a service that government provides, such as public education, good roads, and Medicare or Medicaid. Then they're only too happy to draw on the government's bank account. As I noted earlier, if people would simply take as much responsibility as possible for their own health by eating right, not smoking, and exercising, there would not be any need for government taxation to reach into their pocketbooks and wallets to fund health care. Come right down to it, the answer to our health care problems is incredibly simple--and it's found within each and every one of us!
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