Nanny State

Don't Like Government Health Nannies? Blame Government Health Care.


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent soda ban clearly stems from a longstanding nannying impulse. But as The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein argues, it's also a natural extension of the increased role of government in funding health insurance and care: 

…Bloomberg highlighted a comment from a supporter of the ban, who wrote, "Anyone who pays taxes and thus bears the health care costs of obesity should support this."

In a free society, individuals are able to take risks and make decisions detrimental to their own well-being — be it smoking, drinking, excessive eating or anything else — because they'll bear the ultimate costs of their decisions. But when government assumes a greater role in the health care system, suddenly there's a societal cost to individual risks. This provides an opening for those who believe in a paternalistic role for government to make their regulations seem pragmatic. Bloomberg used the "health care costs to taxpayers" argument during his previous drives to ban smoking in bars and restaurants and to outlaw the use of trans fats.

In 2010, government at all levels was responsible for 49 percent of health care spending in the United States. Once Obamacare is fully implemented, overall government spending on health care will soar, giving elected officials even greater justification to limit individuals' choices about what they eat or drink.

Already, Michelle Obama has made the war on obesity her major cause as first lady. And the health care law includes numerous food regulations. Buried on Page 1,209, for instance, Obamacare details that "the Secretary [of health and human services] shall establish by regulation standards for determining and disclosing the nutrient content for standard menu items that come in different flavors, varieties, or combinations, but which are listed as a single menu item, such as soft drinks, ice cream, pizza, doughnuts, or children's combination meals. … "

More detailed information on the contents of your kid's Happy Meal may seem harmless now, but if Obamacare goes into effect and the government becomes desperate for ways to control health care costs, it's inevitable that lawmakers will go much further. Perhaps they will mandate exercise, or require Americans to maintain a certain waist size. Sound unrealistic? In 2008, Japan, which has a government-run health care system, passed a law requiring waist sizes no greater than 33 1/2 inches for men and 35 1/2 inches for women.

The bigger the stake that government has in paying for health care, the bigger the stake it has in controlling individual behaviors and decisions that affect personal health. You can't separate public health financing from public health nannying. Public officials won't mind their own business about what you eat, drink, and otherwise put into your body as long as it's their business to pay to keep those bodies healthy.