Biology in the News Explained

Tax corn products for health care

Jonathan Oberlander writes about the difficulties of healthcare funding. We want to provide universal health care (wingnuts excepted, perhaps) but who’s going to pay for it? The cost is said to be maybe $1 trillion or more. That money is portrayed by some to have to come out of thin air.

But what about the money already in the system? We are already paying for the health care of all but the 40 million-plus uninsured (which we are actually paying for too, since many of them end up in the emergency room), who represent about 15% of the population.

As pointed out previously, those lucky enough to have insurance are nickel-and-dimed, often into bankruptcy. Having insurance, therefore, doesn’t mean not having to pay for healthcare, which the pundits seem to forget. My family and its employer are now paying, between premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and “co-insurance” (my favorite newspeak term) around $12,000 a year to cover one chronic illness alone, and that can go over $15,000 if anyone else decides to get injured or sick. It also does not count areas of non-coverage such as eye care, which runs several hundred a year at least. And so on, you get the point. If we never went to the doctor once, we would still pay a minimum of $6000 for an HMO ($8500 for our current coverage by a company that charges the extra premium in exchange for actually paying our bills instead of refusing to pay them).

So anti-coverage pundits shriek that taxes would have to shoot up to have the government cover us. Well, in our case they could go up 17% and have no impact on our budget, because that’s already what we’re paying for health care. In addition, no one seems to take into account the cost savings certainly to accrue by slashing the insane, redundant health insurance bureaucracy fueled by having so many different companies constantly refusing to cover their clients. The Montana University System is probably not the only one that has an office staffed by several people for the sole purpose of dealing with health insurance companies. Switching to a single government system would cut the ridiculous amount of overhead we pay in the U.S. at least in half – let’s say, 8% of $1 trillion, which is $80 billion.

Let’s also not forget that many insurance companies are for-profit, and do make money, despite paying the bills. Even many “non-profit” insurance companies have no restrictions on how much they pay their executives. So there’s probably a few more billion at least right there that could be pumped back into the healthcare system, rather than to shareholders (who can then feel much better about themselves for not making money off other peoples’ health bankruptcies).

But okay, maybe we’ll still need a little more money to make coverage universal. One extremely efficient shortcut would to be to transfer the $30 billion plus in agricultural subsidies directly to healthcare. After all, over a third of that subsidizes corn, which needs support because the price has been driven down by farmers having to grow more and more to stay in business. All that extra corn is the raw material for dozens of elements of processed food, including public enemy #1 of the anti-obesity lobby, high fructose corn syrup. So, instead of spending my tax money creating more health problems which drives health care costs up, the government could do their part to level the playing field in the supermarket by not artificially driving down the cost of the food that is the worst for us.

But we know that will never happen. The agribusiness corn beast will be fed. So, do it the next best way. States, stand up to the federal government. Tell them you are sick of federal subsidies putting a strain on state healthcare budgets, and slap a tax on all processed foods. Not just “sugary beverages,” but everything with any corn product in it. A rough estimate of annual American processed food sales (including everything sold in a fast-food restaurant) is about $300 billion. Five percent of that is $15 billion, which would cover the corn subsidies. Put that money into healthcare. People may still be fat, but at least they will be able to afford treatment for it.

Tweak the system a bit: maybe no more full body scans allowed when someone finds a new mole, reduce cancer treatments that don’t actually help anyone, etc. The point is that universal health care can be covered with political will, and would have the added benefit of large corporations such as the automakers not being disadvantaged out of the gate by medical costs for which they should never have been responsible in the first place. Stop listening to the mouthpieces who say it’s too expensive, because we are already paying for it. Those who would prefer to pay for their own insurance and/or healthcare shouldn’t get a vote, because they will always be able to buy any health care they want under any system we adopt (this is America, after all).

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2 Responses to “Tax corn products for health care”

  1. Helene says:

    Thanks for your contribution to Take Charge of Your Health Care Carnival. You make some interesting points. One of the problems that we have here in the U.S., is that our health care system was originally set up to be an employer pay system. With the recession and fewer companies able to pay the exhorbitant cost, this system has led to 47 million uninsured Americans and even more underinsured. I’m sorry to see that Obama is thinking more along the lines of a hybrid system, including a choice of business and a national system, when a single payer universal system would offer the best cost savings.

  2. Lucia Huebner says:

    Hooray for this posting. God it is SUCH a relief to read something intelligent about this debate. But do we really have to keep feeding that corn monster?

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