You know what they say: The government helps those who won’t help themselves—or who will help themselves to seconds.
The bill, introduced this week by the long-serving Iowa Democrat, is the latest in a growing line of big-government measures in obesity battle costing American taxpayers—morbidly obese and skinny alike—billions of dollars.
Just how much taxpayer cash the HeLP America Act helps itself to isn’t clear. The bill must first be reported to committee before the Congressional Budget Office breaks down the costs. But based on the ambitious scope of the legislation’s public health and prevention initiatives, taking aim at obesity and sundry bad personal choices that led to it, HeLP America’s fiscal demands could top the budget scales.
Also not clear is how much states would be on the hook for the array of federal government requirements, or how such an ambitious program would be funded in a time of $16 trillion-plus national debt.
Harkin’s staff did not reply to Wisconsin Reporter’s request for a fiscal breakdown.An updated knockoff of an idled bill Harkin co-sponsored in May 2007 and borrowing from and expanding existing initiatives, the HeLP Act does everything from bolstering the free fruit and vegetable program in schools to awarding grants for community gardens to calling for the installation of bicycle storage areas at federal buildings.
Federal employees better be prepared to take the stairs.
“In General- Each Federal agency shall install point-of-decision prompts encouraging individuals to use stairs wherever practicable at each relevant building and installation,” the proposal states.
The bill promotes breastfeeding among working mothers, hikes taxes on tobacco, gives tax breaks to employers for employee fitness club memberships and requires physical activity guidelines for the general public.
There’s more labeling mandates to tell consumers that the processed stuff they’re eating beyond moderation may not be the best diet plan. The HeLP Act sets forth provisions to reduce the sodium content of processed and restaurant food, and expands coverage of preventive services through Medicaid and theFederal Employees Health Benefits program.
HeLP has some punitive measures, too, going after a usual suspect. The bill imposes an industry-wide penalty on manufacturers of cigarettes for failure to achieve a federal government youth tobacco reduction goal. The fine, should youth tobacco usage fail to be reduced by at least 5 percent “or a level determined significantly sufficient by the Secretary” of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, could be as high as a combined $3 billion.
As one free-market official put it, the HeLP Act is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on steroids.
Saving lives, saving tax dollars?
Harkin, who has championed government health-care initiatives throughout his nearly 30-year U.S. Senate career, said prevention is the key to improving public health and ultimately saving taxpayer money.
“Taking steps to improve access to healthier options, exercise opportunities, food labeling, and tobacco cessation will not only help stave off chronic disease — it will also save consumers and taxpayers money in the long run,” Harkin said in a statement. “By making health and wellness a key priority in our schools, workplaces, and communities — and by educating people to make informed choices — the HeLP America Act can open the door for more Americans to live longer and more productive lives free from chronic disease.”