Now that healthcare reform has been passed into law, we’ve seen full-blown outrage from conservative commentators, teabaggers, and unnaturally orange-skinned people (…a tax on indoor tanning?? How will we keep the Jersey economy afloat?). This trifecta has argued that as healthcare poison gets jammed down our throats, the country will almost certainly spiral into a welfare state of doom.
Even though I can’t identify with teabagging, Beck-watching fist pumpers, I do have some concerns about the healthcare reform. On the whole, I agree with the concept: everyone should have access to healthcare. But like any government plan, this reform is riddled with unintended consequences. By forcing insurance on the 46 million who are currently uninsured, we also introduce moral hazard into the system: now that those people have insurance, they may be more likely to do stupid things, like give birth to octuplets or get the (golf) clap from Tiger Woods.
To solve this problem, there should be a greater focus on preventative measures. For example, I am a rather repulsive high-volume eater. When we go out to eat, my family often orders 7 entrees for 4 people. One time, we were asked to move to a bigger table so that the restaurant could accommodate all the food. A few months ago, a friend and I went out to dinner in Union Square, where we split a fried appetizer, each ate a huge entree (I got a pork chop), and then ordered a bread pudding to share… but the dessert was so good that we ordered another one (and ate it all). That night, I had to sleep sitting up in my bed.
I never count calories, I rarely exercise, and I’ve been known to unbutton my pants at the dinner table. Essentially, I am a rather disgusting example of American excess, flying in the face of our mission to Keep America Beautiful. But even with all that, I’m not (yet) a blubbery whale. I can still fit into clothes that I wore in high school, and I can wear skinny jeans without being ironic. At the same time, I’m totally testing the system. Eventually, nature and logic will have its way with me, and I’ll end up ferrying my fat self around on a scooter that you will pay for through your taxes. So in order for you to make me change my atrocious ways now, you need the system to punish me. Because unless it’s costing me something significant today, I won’t stop eating mac and cheese in bed.
There are promising preventative statutes included in the plan now (like the tanning tax), but we could use more of these so-called Pigovian taxes: cigarette taxes, alcohol taxes, soda taxes, candy taxes, etc. I’m sure that the ultra-conservative Pigou Club would argue that the negative externalities associated with unhealthy people is minimal… but now that we have a universal healthcare system, perhaps they’ll reconsider.
Punishing bad behavior is controversial, yes. But I ate 3 steaks in 3 days this past weekend, and I think we can all agree — that’s not just bad, it’s ugly.