Friday, September 11, 2009

Should Overweight People Pay More For Health Insurance?

That is the question raised in an article from the New York Times magazine called Fat Tax by David Leonhardt. Here are the key exerpts:

"For all the miracles that modern medicine really does perform, it is not the primary determinant of most people’s health. J. Michael McGinnis, a senior scholar at the Institute of Medicine, has estimated that only 10 percent of early deaths are the result of substandard medical care. About 20 percent stem from social and physical environments, and 30 percent from genetics. The biggest contributor, at 40 percent, is behavior."

"people in their 50s are about 20 pounds heavier on average than 50-somethings were in the late 1970s."

"Obesity is different. A recent article in Health Affairs estimated its annual cost to be $147 billion and growing. That translates into $1,250 per household, mostly in taxes and insurance premiums."

"And yet it turns out that the obese already do pay something resembling their fair share of medical costs, albeit in an indirect way. Overweight workers are paid less than similarly qualified, thinner colleagues, according to research by Jay Bhattacharya and M. Kate Bundorf of Stanford. The cause isn’t entirely clear. But the size of the wage difference is roughly similar to the size of the difference in their medical costs."

"The question of personal responsibility, then, ends up being more complicated than it may seem. It’s hard to argue that Americans have collectively become more irresponsible over the last 30 years; the murder rate has plummeted, and divorce and abortion rates have fallen. And our genes certainly haven’t changed in 30 years."

"What has changed is our environment. Parents are working longer, and takeout meals have become a default dinner. Gym classes have been cut. The real price of soda has fallen 33 percent over the last three decades. The real price of fruit and vegetables has risen more than 40 percent."

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