Is a fat tax really a poor tax?
When you go for that extra piece of pie on Thursday, think about your health insurance premium before you decide to pig out.
Several states are coming up with incentives to get people to lose weight and stop smoking.
In North Carolina, Time magazine reports, state workers with unhealthy habits will start paying more for premiums if they don’t try and lose weight or stop smoking. And Alabama is giving big discounts on health insurance to those state workers who already meet those guidelines.
All these new regulations are designed to make people healthier.
But I wonder: will they really just bankrupt the working poor who are already struggling to stay healthy?
Poor neighborhoods have much higher obesity rates than affluent ones. They also have greater barriers to getting thin. Food deserts – large geographic areas with no grocery stores – make fast food restaurants a short walk, but finding fresh food quite a hike. In Chicago, food deserts affect over 600,000 people, 200,000 of whom are children and 100,000 are single mothers.
Low-income people are also more likely to smoke. Smokers are 34 percent of those making $6,000 to $12,000 a year, compared to 13 percent of those making over $120,000.
So any fat fees or smoking levy will disproportionately affect those at the bottom. And while the health care debate rages, there’s no debate that low-income people already have less access and lower quality medical care.
In places like Alabama, where a discount may encourage a person to try shedding a few pounds or kicking the habit, putting a financial incentive inside a health care choice may be good for some families.
But North Carolina’s approach could cost poor families some serious cash. “Starting in July, state workers who smoke will be moved from the plan that covers 80% of health care costs to one that pays 70%, an out-of-pocket difference of approximately $480 a year, unless they agree to enroll in a smoking cessation program.”
480 bucks? That’s 66 hours of work at the Tar Heel state’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
There are already great barriers to the poor getting well. Almost every disease is seen at higher rates among the poor. And the treatment they receive is already inferior.
They’re paying the cost of poverty with their lives, with their health. Can we really expect them to pay any more?