The Fat Tax

Alabama tells its workers to slim down or pay. What’s wrong with that?

The state of Alabama has issued a warning to its state workers: Get fit or pay up.

In August, the Alabama State Employees’ Insurance Board approved a plan that will charge workers  an additional $25 to cover their insurance premiums, if they don’t take advantage of free health screenings available to all state employees. The program, to begin in January, will require state workers to receive medical screenings for body mass index and health problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity.

Critics have panned this as a “fat tax”  that unfairly punishes people for their genetic predispositions. Others argue that the measure amounts to lawful discrimination that infringes on the right of free will, much like the state’s 2004 decision to offer a discount to non-smoking employees.

Nonsense. This is an opportunity, not punishment. It is an important step toward better preventive care at a time when health costs are soaring and Americans are in increasing denial  about their ever-ballooning weight. And the state is offering a free—yes, free—jumpstart. Under the plan, state employees are being asked to go to a free health screening, and if necessary, a free doctor’s consultation. If those screenings show that a person is predisposed to illness due to their weight or other conditions, they will be offered help to begin to address their health issues. Only if workers fail to take advantage of the free screening will they be charged the additional $25.

Alabamans are clearly in need. Varying reports place Alabama with the second or third highest rate of obesity  in the country. The Birmingham News confirms this southern state has the country’s highest rate of stroke and third-highest rate of infant mortality.

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1 Response to “The Fat Tax”

  1. 1 DAR November 23, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Few things gall me more than paying the same insurance premium copayment and rates (thanks to group rated coverage policy) as the folks who drink, smoke, take drugs and never exercise. My choices are to either buy my own policy on the open market (which would still cost more than my portion of coverage through my employer, but would reflect my healthy lifestyle) or opt out of the coverage altogether (and hope nothing bad happens). IMO, employers (including the State of Alabama) have every right to adjust employee benefits rates to reflect the employee’s lifestyle choices. In this country, far too much attention is paid to healthcare insurance and not nearly enough attention is given to leading healthy lifestyles. Kudos to the State of Alabama.


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