Arizona's Fatso Fee: Should Overweight People Be Taxed?

Heather Murphy-Raines
31


To Lose or Not to Lose?
Like so many Americans in the United States, I have struggled with my weight. It's a day-to-day challenge. Stress makes it worse. 

So I was shocked to hear it was proposed in the great state of Arizona that some of our most stressed citizens, welfare recipients, down on their luck, struggling to get by, might be fined for being fat.

Yes, there are hard choices to be made in this economy. With President Obama's health care extending coverage, states, whether they can afford it or not, may be forced to pay out increasing matched costs of tens of billions of dollars. To counter this, the state of Arizona is getting creative and a bit radical -- big surprise, Arizona being radical, eh?

It has been proposed that a $50 annual fine be imposed for overweight Medicaid recipients who don't follow a strict health regime developed with their doctor.

The good news is that people who are caring for children or who are overweight due to a medical condition would be exempt. Smokers and diabetics, however, would also be fined. Assistant director at Arizona's Medicaid program, Monica Coury, states the aim is to change behavior using a carrot and stick approach, in the same way that increasing cigarette taxes reduced smoking in some states.

However, that tax applied to every smoker coming from every walk of life, whereas these fines would pinpoint our most vulnerable, down on their luck, stressed citizens. I am not sure this fiscal strategy is sound. Smoking I understand. You need to quit. You need to stop putting the cancer sticks in your mouth. However food? You can never quit completely. Food can be a drug for some, but you must continue to eat -- which is completely different from quitting smoking cold turkey. 

I admit, I was and still very much am against Obama's health care plan. I think it's too costly and forces a socialized medical system that I do not want for my family. However, this move by Arizona to cut health care costs just seems illogical -- my own experience has shown that eating healthy food costs way more money. In my mind, a fine would simply decrease the poor's already limited food budget. The month they're hit with such a $50 fine I would think would result in the poor gravitating toward cheap, highly caloric food to make ends meet. Dollar menu at McDonald's anyone? Top Ramen noodles? No one loses weight on that crap.

Sadly, these fines may be a sign of the times. In the past, my family's health plan offered cash incentives to lose weight. This year? It included a different plan with soaring costs for smokers. Yep, they are choosing the "stick" over the "carrot" too. I can only imagine a weight clause with higher rates is coming up the pipeline. Heck, if Arizona can do it, don't think for a minute that private corporations won't get on that bandwagon.

My thoughts? Arizona should take a page from universities everywhere, assume the carrot mentality, and pay out a little more short term for free gym memberships or empower people to lose weight through incentives. In the long run, I think they might have a better result saving costs from this epidemic of obesity with a carrot than a $50 stick, don't you?

 

Image via Phoney Nickle/Flickr

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