Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Bloomberg, Jefferson & Supersizing

Where do you stand on Mayor Bloomberg’s desire to impose 16-ounce limits on sugared drinks? As ever opinions are likely to split on one’s political views or, even more likely, on whether you lean towards the rights of the individual or the community.

In any case the argument is probably hypothetical, as most people tend to agree that enforcing such a law would be difficult.

And yet, Hizzoner has definitely succeeded in placing the prickly issues of health, obesity, and cost to the community full square in the public eye. Besides, one can never underestimate the clout of an extremely rich man – who would have imagined ten years ago that you could get ossified in your local saloon without smelling like an ashtray the next day.

But should government get involved in these matters? Shouldn’t one be allowed to choose one’s own poison? Such valid thoughts surely flit through the mind of any self-respecting individualist.

These opinions hold less appeal for the community-minded citizen concerned with national health, not to mention footing the bill for a country’s fast-food nutritional misadventures.

To add fat to the fire – no pun intended - Type 2 Diabetes, the fastest rising health issue in the US, is caused primarily by a diet high in sugar and fat intake.

And since a certain percentage of people suffering from obesity do not have health insurance and are treated for little or no charge in hospital emergency rooms - thus driving up health insurance premiums - we find ourselves back in the realm of health care policy.

Oh dear, how did an innocuous 20-ounce container of Pepsi or Sprite land us head first back in the thorny fields of the Affordable Health Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare?

Perhaps because health care as a percentage of the federal budget is rivaled only by defense costs, and since we seem to have finally come to a national consensus that we can’t afford to invade any other countries, health – or lack thereof – has become a huge political football.

Now few politicians with an eye to the future will mess with Medicare, since all of us feel that if we can somehow make it to 65 we’re entitled to our lawfully earned benefits. So where does that leave us?

Ah yes, in the evil empire of Medicaid where welfare queens drink daiquiris and do the boogie-woogie all night with others of the subsidized indolent.

Medicaid, for all its detractors however, also underwrites the health care of disadvantaged children and the disabled; for the most part it does not cover single people without a disability. But in order to provide some form of universal health insurance, Obamacare would add 20 million of the working poor - single and otherwise - to Medicaid.

This is a move heartily endorsed by hospital administrators, long tired of caring for the uninsured in their emergency rooms. Many others in health and government circles also feel that, despite hefty early expenditure, this move will eventually bring down long-term costs, as the health of the uninsured will improve through preventive care and education.

Still, is this the responsibility of the federal government? It would not appear that the founding fathers had any such intention when framing the constitution.

On the other hand, should we eternally look to these revolutionary icons for inspiration; Republican freethinker that he was, Thomas Jefferson would surely seem less than politically correct today by his advocacy of castration for homosexuals. Times change, as do solutions to problems - real and perceived.

And to think we began with Mayor Bloomberg’s distaste for the super-sized! With the presidential election approaching much hay will be made of the battle between individual rights and community wellbeing; but in the end such questions will ultimately give way to the real bottom line in any democracy – how much does it all cost and how few people can be offended in the process?

A sensible compromise might be that people are indeed free to poison themselves in whatever way they see fit – but only if they’re prepared to foot the cost of doing so.

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