Tag Archives: health insurance premiums


As part of his last-ditch effort to revive the Senate’s undead health reform bill, President Obama has proposed a federal board to veto health insurance premiums it finds “unreasonable and unjustified.” In case you’re wondering, all 50 states already do this, albeit with the countervailing requirement that premiums must also be “adequate” to assure insurance carrier solvency—a key requirement the President ignores.

His proposal is the obvious result of his Administration’s high dudgeon over Wellpoint’s 39% individual premium hikes in California (where it has lost millions). The argument is that such increases are unconscionable from an industry that earned “$12 billion in profits last year.” Please note the inapt comparison of percentages with dollars, a diversionary, demagogic tactic often used to enrage the innumerate while failing to note Wellpoint’s 2009 operating profit margin of 4.8% or the entire industry’s hopelessly pedestrian 2.2%. Even more absurd was one congresswoman’s snarky suggestion that the real reason for the increases was to maintain WellPoint CEO Angela Braly’s $9 million annual compensation—equal to twenty-eight cents per member per year. The cause of premium increases is not profits or executive compensation. To paraphrase President Clinton, “It’s rising medical costs, stupid!”

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The Dietary Nanny Patrol is at it again, this time with an article in the current New England Journal of Medicine claiming that a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary soft drinks would help to reduce the nation’s bulging waistline while raising $150 billion “that governments can use for health programs” over the next decade. And cows nationwide will breathe a sigh of relief over the plunging demand for belt leather. This is another in a long line of similar ideas to paste a bull’s-eye on isolated food groups as a way to refill depleted tax coffers under the guise of public health advocacy.  It always seems odd to me that the estimates of enhanced tax revenues and increased public health are so often trumpeted together, even though the achievement of one always comes as a tradeoff against the other. Such “solutions” send mixed messages and are inefficient as hell.

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The average obese American consumes a beefy 42% more in medical costs than his normally-weighted neighbor. So says an article published today in the journal Health Affairs. Last year, such avoidable avoirdupois boosted health care spending by a corpulent $147 billion. That’s enough to buy comprehensive health insurance for more than a million uninsured families.

America’s infatuation with “weight loss” (I got 107 million Google hits on the term.) is exceeded only by its obsession with successfully avoiding it. In the mere eight years between 1998 and 2006, the obesity rate distended from 18.3 percent of the population to 25.1 percent. This progression of portly proportionality gives every indication of continuing until we all resemble the ponderous passengers on the movie spaceship in Wall-E—but without the anodyne of zero-g.

What can be done? Taxes on Twinkies? Measuring the obesity rate in “porcint”? Mandating spandex halter tops and sweatpants for Wal-Mart shoppers? No? Then how about a market-based solution?

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