Thursday, April 26, 2012

Newt Gingrich's Saving Lives & Saving Money 4

I have two items for my write-up today on Newt Gingrich's Saving Lives & Saving Money: Transforming Health and Healthcare.

1.  On pages 73-74, Newt talks about childhood nutrition.  He laments that "School lunches...contribute to instilling unhealthy eating habits in children" because they "are high in carbohydrates and fail to offer a variety of healthy alternatives such as soymilk", when "Foods containing soy protein are effective in reducing cholesterol, treating kidney disease, and may cause calcium to be better utilized, helping to ward off osteoporosis."  Newt states that the dairy industry is being put ahead of children's nutritional needs.  Newt then discusses a school district in California that has banned sodas on campuses, replacing them with milk, "beverages with at least 50% fruit juice, and sports drinks with less than 42 grams of sugar per 20-ounce serving".  Newt says that childhood obesity is a growing problem.

Newt goes on to say that he's not in favor of banning soft drinks and whole milk, but that people should learn about balance.  But Newt may support the school's ban on soft drinks, for he says that "The soft drink companies should be challenged to expect to produce healthy alternatives or to expect to have reduced access to young people as a market."

What Newt said in this 2003 book intrigued me, in light of conservative snark about Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign (see here).  I wonder what the difference is between Newt's approach to this issue and that of Michelle Obama.

In any case, as much as I like soda, I think that schools should promote healthier dietary habits.  Many conservatives decry Michelle Obama's anti-obesity program as characteristic of a big government nanny state, and some of them defiantly affirm that they have a right to eat whatever they want, even if it's unhealthy.  But eating in an unhealthy manner doesn't just affect the person eating in an unhealthy manner.  It produces health problems that impact everyone else----in terms of higher health care costs and insurance premiums. 
 
I wouldn't go so far as to say that the government should ban junk food.  I seriously doubt that Michelle Obama goes that far, either.  But schools and school lunches should be stocked with healthy food and drinks.  Michelle Obama does well to work with restaurants to encourage them to have healthy items on menus.  A health care program that encourages preventative care----which entails doctors coaching patients to eat right----can benefit individuals and society as a whole.

2.  Newt once again expresses disapproval of third-party payers for health care.  Newt supports health savings accounts----tax-free accounts of employees to which employers will contribute.  But Newt's proposals do not get rid of insurance altogether.  Newt believes that health-savings accounts will reduce premiums because people would have money in their account for medical needs, and thus could have a higher deductible in their health insurance.  Newt also wants to move America away from employer-based health insurance, yet he recognizes that it's more expensive for individuals to purchase health insurance.  As a solution, he proposes a tax credit for the individual purchase of health insurance, and also that groups (i.e., of small businesses, organizations, etc.) be able to purchase health insurance.

I think that these ideas are a step in the right direction, but I doubt that they're adequate for everybody.  Would a tax credit help individuals who don't make enough to pay much in taxes to begin with?  Would health-savings accounts provide enough money for costly operations?  Moreover, while Newt's proposal that small businesses come together to purchase health insurance may have merit, I question whether Republicans have the will to push for this.  I remember George W. Bush supporting this idea when he debated John Kerry.  Then Bush won, and I didn't hear about the idea again.  (But maybe Bush did mention it, since he supported some proposal regarding health insurance, which was rejected by the Democrats.)

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