Category Archives: Health Care


That’s the conclusion being put forward in a recent opinion piece published by The Journal of the American Medical Association and co-authored by Lindsey Murtagh (J.D., Harvard School of Public Health) and David Ludwig (M.D./Ph.D., Children’s Hospital Boston). They argue that if a child is obese enough, the state should be able to assume custody in the interest of their health. That’s right- if your kid is deemed to be too overweight, they should be placed in a foster home. I think this is a bad solution to a bad problem.

Having worked in hospitals for several years, and having witnessed firsthand the debilitating effects of obesity and the disorders it causes later in life, I would be the first to admit that we need to do something to help these children. The solution isn’t, however, to take the children away from their families and place them with foster parents who will theoretically enforce a dietary solution. That’s treating the symptom, not the root cause. It would put a massive (in more ways than one) burden on an already overworked and overwhelmed foster care system, as well as the American taxpayer through increased case management needs. That’s not to mention the fact that older kids are harder to place, and  obese children obviously aren’t the most popular choice among foster parents.

I think we need to acknowledge that the primary reason people are becoming more and more obese these days is the increased penetration and affordability of fast food, and unhealthy foods in general. The problem is only compounded by the fact that times have been hard during the recession. The problem isn’t that parents have suddenly become less responsible- there have always been and will always be people who neglect their children in one way or another, and our system has specific processes for dealing with that. However, if a parent can only afford to feed their kids off the dollar menu, does it seem reasonable that they should be punished by having their child taken away? Doesn’t feeding the kid show they give a shit? Mandatory foster placement is a single broad stroke against a problem with many different causes, and would serve all too often to abduct children from loving, caring homes. I don’t think we should stand for such lazy, callous solutions here in America.

You want to know my solution? Tax the shit out of corporations like McDonald’s, and place taxes that are on par with (or better yet, higher than) the taxes we imp0se on alcohol and cigarettes on fast food and junk food. This will make those types of foods expensive as hell, and less people will buy them as a result. Profit will be hurt, and corporations will have significant incentive to invest in healthy foods. The more companies operating in the healthy food arena, the lower the prices will be due to competition. That’s basic economics. The end result is healthy food being cheaper, and unhealthy food being more expensive. A cheeseburger isn’t such an attractive choice when it costs as much as a porterhouse, and less people will get fat off of them as a result- problem solved. Such a solution would also generate revenue while simultaneously addressing our increasing ADULT obesity problem.

Such a solution would remove the future burden that obese individuals will inevitably become on our already strained Medicare and Medicaid systems. It would also cause insurance rates to drop over time, because insurance companies would have to cover fewer obesity-related ailments (there are a plethora). Perhaps most importantly, it would break the cycle of unhealthy eating and serve to garner political will in support of subsidies for healthy, sustainable foods, thus creating a potential for the emergence of new American food industries. Jobs, people?

We have developed a tendency to think, like Ms.Murtagh and Mr. Ludwig, in an exclusively reactive way- we’re trying to get fat kids to lose weight, as opposed to trying to keep kids from getting fat in the first place. We’re treating symptoms rather than causes, and it’s gotten to the point that it’s like putting a band-aid on a ten-pound tumor. We need to get serious about this issue, as both a country and an electorate, and try to implement long-term solutions rather than short-term ones. Only once we learn these lessons will we begin to see progress.

Painfully. Slow. Progress.


People in Jail Have Better Health Care Than the Unemployed

Today, a man robbed a bank so he could receive the minimum necessary treatment for his medical problems. James Verone walked into a bank in Gaston County North Carolina, walked up to the counter, and slipped the teller a note announcing that he was robbing the bank. He demanded that they give him one dollar. He then informed the bank staff that he would take a seat to wait for the police. Mr. Verone’s goal was to have himself taken to jail so that he would gain access to the basic medical care afforded to prisoners by law.

His story is a first, at least for me. What isn’t a first for me is hearing that there are people out there who need medical care and are unable to afford it. I’ve been told by some of my conservative colleagues that “health care is a service, not a right,” as though that should convince me to just let the issue lie. It’s true, there are no provisions in our constitution that specifically state that a United States citizen is entitled to health care. Of course that document was written in a time when medical care was barely accessible to the population, and when it was, one of the most common medical solutions was to just “cut it off.”

Did you know that right now in the U.K., a country that provides free health care to all of its citizens, even the most staunch conservatives are running on platforms that specifically emphasize that modifications to the health care system will not result in “American-style” health care schemes? They have a universal health care system (which by the way it turns out doesn’t make a country collapse) and they are so satisfied with it that they don’t even consider privatized, insurance-based health care to be a reasonable option. In fact they consider politicians who speak in support of such a system to be entirely unelectable.

In our country, we have people going bankrupt paying for medical services. These aren’t just the unemployed, these are perfectly well-established, hardworking people who had something happen and then their insurer chose not to cover it. I have been told by my law professors that here in the United States we are all just one major accident away from bankruptcy. That isn’t right, and just because people subscribe to conservative apologetics does not make it right. Of course the Republican party is going to do everything to stop what they call “Obamacare” (what kind of sheeple are convinced by meaningless buzzwords like that anyway?)- private insurance is a cash cow, and conservative representatives receive huge campaign contributions from the insurance industry. This really isn’t that complicated.

So when I hear people say “health care isn’t a right, it’s a service,” I have to agree. Here in the United States it is a service, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can support amendments that improve the currently compromised health care bill, which hasn’t even taken effect yet. Failing that, or in the event that a Republican-controlled Congress manages to suffocate the effects of the bill by controlling funding, we can amend the constitution and we can make it a right.

Don’t kid yourself- you don’t know if you are going to lose your job, have an accident, or develop cancer or some other serious medical condition. You don’t know if you’re going to be covered when you need medical care. It’s time we start thinking long term, and it’s time we start to acknowledge that creating a safety net for others means we are creating a safety net for ourselves. Maybe one day we will realize these things, and we can stop hearing about people who die because they don’t have enough money.

Painfully. Slow. Progress.