Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Make 'em Pay

It's in the news right now that California is putting forth a bill in state legislature to prevent an insurance surcharge from affecting tobacco users.  It's not just California that's doing this, either.

Why not?  Tobacco use is optional.  You won't die young if you don't get it - quite the opposite, in fact, regardless of what the tobacco companies themselves might say - and your quality of life isn't reduced by avoiding tobacco use.  So why not charge tobacco users more on their health insurance?

The main argument against levying the surcharge against tobacco users is that it would make health insurance unaffordable for the people who smoke the most: those who are poorest.

Well, I'm tired of subsidizing reckless behavior.  My health insurance won't pay off if I get killed while hang gliding, so even though I'd really really like to take up hang gliding, I don't do it.  And because it doesn't pay off for me, it doesn't pay off for anyone else either.  My life insurance premium isn't subsidizing somebody else's crater.

I don't smoke.  Never have.  But a small percentage of my coworkers do.  Their smoking is driving up the premiums my employer pays, which just takes a little more money out of the budget, money we could use for other things.

See how selfish it is?  Smoking takes money out of a purse that could use it.  I work in a homeless shelter, we could use that money to put more food on the table, hire another front desk worker, something.  Never mind the added work of finding someone to regularly clean out the ashtrays on the property, sweep up tossed cigarette butts, et cetera, work that comes with its own cost.  These are the hidden subsidies that tobacco use demands of everyone.

You can defend smokers, saying that if they were properly responsible that sort of thing wouldn't happen, but the fact is that they just aren't.  So I don't see a reason not to hit them in the pocket book.  Fines work against people who get stopped for speeding.  If all the cop ever did was just castigate a speeder for being vehicularly rude and taking advantage of others' acquiescence, they'd never slow down.  Slapping speeders with a big fine reminds them of the price of vehicular rudeness the next time they look at their bank balance.  So slap the smokers with a big bill.  It's a proven fact that there's a huge added cost of needed medical care associated with each and every pack of smokes, an added cost that for some reason isn't actually paid at the time of purchase.  It comes out in medical bills and, yes, insurance premiums.  But tobacco users need to be hit with big, juicy insurance premiums.

Not fair?  Maybe not entirely.  But here's the big secret: I want you to quit smoking.  I want no one to ever smoke again.  I don't give a damn if that's hard news for every tobacco farmer ever born, I don't care if that's unfeeling toward the thousands of people employed by the tobacco industry.  Those jobs and dollars are nothing compared to a single human life, the final hours of it spent wasted in gasping agony, struggling for each breath, wondering if this one must be the last, as one of them eventually must.  If one man did that to another deliberately, you'd call it torture and revile it as the crime that it is.  But since the smoker picks up the cigarettes willingly, pays money he can't afford and hopes to rely on health care that can't undo decades of addicted injury, we don't call it a crime.  We just call it a right and look the other way.

So yeah, hit smokers with a big insurance premium.  Hit them ALL.  Do it for dip, too.  Make a single pack of smokes cost $20, a tin of dip $10.  Maybe it is a right, maybe it shouldn't be.  But if it's going to be a right, something as self-destructive as this, let's cover all the costs up front.  You keep smoking, you're going to need a new lung someday, each pack you buy helps put a payment on it. In fact if that were part of the pricing structure a single pack might cost one hell of a lot more than $20.  And it still might not be enough.

But at least my insurance premiums wouldn't be helping to pay for it.  I didn't pick up the smokes, I didn't make anybody breathe that stuff.  Nobody should.  And if nobody did, then nobody would have to pay for it or its aftermath.

Once we've attacked the smoking problem where smokers will feel it most, then let's repeat this approach at the buffet.  Think about it: living a healthy lifestyle might be the best way to save money, let's encourage that by discouraging everything else.

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