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National health care’s 1st dividend: A 10% tanning tax

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POSTED July 1, 2010 2:14 a.m.
If you go to a tanning salon, congratulations are in order.

Starting today you will be among the first Americans officially touched by the new federal health care law.

You will be paying 10 percent in tanning taxes to pay for the dubious investment of helping the sun fry your skin. The tax – which should be more honestly called a sin tax along with those extra charges slapped onto everything from liquor and cigarettes that ultimately may have severe health consequences – is expected to raise $2.7 billion over the next 10 years.

As Al Jolson infamously said on celluloid at the birth of talking movies: “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.”

Uncle Sam will end up having to shake down a lot of us to cover the nearly $1 trillion tab so the federal government can complete the transition into the role of Uncle Nanny.

It’s hard, of course, to argue against a sin tax on tanning. After all, such activities could have serious consequences even for those who don’t overdo it.

Ironically it points to the biggest flaw of those deciding it was in the best interest of America for the federal government to take over essentially one ninth of the economy.

All of our major health costs today are driven by behavioral illnesses that are preventable as opposed to infectious communicable diseases.

We spent the dawn of the 20th century working diligently on vaccines and improved sanitation and water systems to combat malaria, cholera, polio, whooping cough, influenza, chicken pox, measles, and other micro biotic scourges of mankind. For all practical purposes, we won most battles and have most of the infectious communicable diseases in check.

But while death rates from infectious communicable diseases plummeted in this country throughout the last century those diseases and deaths triggered by behavior skyrocketed.

They include cancer, heart disease, AIDS, and auto accidents. It is risky behavior – smoking cigarettes, diets laden in fats and sugars, illegal drug use, unprotected promiscuous sex and sharing of needles, and reckless or careless driving – that are the big killers of Americans. They are also the biggest siphons on America’s collective pockets when it comes to treating them.

It is admirable to want to help people who have become ill because of behavior. But how many resources can we afford to squander on someone who is rotting everything from their teeth and muscles to organs by constantly using meth? There is a high cost to such treatment that we are already paying for through various avenues.

That is where the tricky question of how far do you go comes into play. Yes, there are no death panels but government will be forced to decide who – more specifically what ailment and at what age – are worth the resources of the nation to help. Many of us must believe the federal government can simply keep increasing the money supply to pay for a perfect world we all seem to demand of Washington, D.C. We demand that anything that seems unfair whether it is caused by nature or wanton personal misconduct is addressed with all of the medical resources we can throw at it. It isn’t going to happen because no country that has gone to nationalized medicine can afford it.

There will need to be limits ultimately on who gets what type of care and how much.

Yes, a solid case could have been made for a national healthcare program that provides universal access to medical care to prevent costly diseases as well as programs helping cover those who are born with genetic conditions that require medical care.

What we got, though, was simply an extension in a somewhat different format of the inadequate approach to health care that is already in place.

Behavior, whether we want to admit it, plays a big role in skyrocketing health care costs. Cancer deaths were rare at the dawn of the 20th century. The invention of a machine in 1883 by 18-year-old James Bonsack to mass produce rolled cigarettes plus the federal government decision to include cigarettes in K-rations during World War I had a lot to do with setting America on course to where we are today in terms of much of the high cost of cancer treatment.

A more sensible approach would have pared back the “insurance” coverage aspect and emphasized preventative strategies . Providing universal access to prevention clinics or some type of incentive program that offers more coverage of health care costs when individuals take an active role in reducing the potential for high expenditures by pursuing healthier lifestyles makes sense.

Is that trampling on your rights to do as you please with your body and health? It isn’t if you’re going to embrace a system where everyone else has to cover the cost of the bad decisions made by individuals.
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