Thursday, May 12, 2005

Is it time for NYC to institute a true fat tax?

Literally, a tax on being fat. If "hefty" people require these additional expenditures by the government, then they should pay a tax for their corpulence that costs the government the extra money. The New York Post reports:
By DAVID SEIFMAN City Hall Bureau Chief

May 12, 2005 -- A 420-pound union official who wants taxpayers to buy ambulances big enough to hold him is throwing his weight around — and a Queens legislator is doing the heavy lifting.

Councilman James Sanders (D-Queens) yesterday said he's supporting a bill that would require the city to buy 10 pricey ambulances capable of transporting patients who weigh 500 pounds or more.

"In our society, it's easy to make fun about this population," Sanders said at City Hall with municipal-union leader Mark Rosenthal, who says he just can't find a way to shed the pounds.

"You turn on any Saturday-night show and you will see comedians make cheap jokes . . . There's really nothing funny about people dying."
The only jokes I ever heard or saw about "fat" people dying were on Saturday Night Live, with the skits about Polish sausage, Mike Ditka and the Chicago Bears. Personally I found those hilariously side-splitting.

However, I myself find nothing funny about making taxpayers pay for a problem he created by himself, for himself.
A second bill would force the Health and Hospitals Corp. to equip at least one facility in each borough with a stretcher, wheelchair and bed capable of holding a person who weighs 400 pounds.

Sanders said HHC supported his measures. But the agency issued a statement indicating it was unnecessary, since all of its hospitals have equipment capable of handling heavyweights.
Wouldn't you think that hospitals know what equipment they need to serve their patients? Of course, but more importantly, why would they know best? Simply because it's their money. Their administrators have to "make do" with their funding, whereas big government acts as if money just appears (or that more can be acquired simply through raising taxes).

This encroachment by big government won't stop with either bill. The nature of Big Brother Government, which constantly professes its benevolent intentions, is that such a law will eventually expand beyond the "two ambulances per borough" requirement. There is no way that two ambulances can be stationed to respond effectively to a "heavy" victim in trouble at any given location in the borough. NYC geography makes that impossible.

So what will happen is that eventually every hospital beyond a certain size will be required to have one of these "hefty people-friendly" ambulances. Then the requirement will grow to encompass every hospital, period. Hospitals can't afford this burden, so unless they get extra donations, NYC will step in to give them ambulance stipends.
Rosenthal, 52, who says "stress" has led him to pack on the pounds, admitted he desperately needs to lose weight but hasn't been able to stop eating.

He said he's previously gotten down to 365 and is now trying to shed 100 pounds to qualify for a gastric bypass surgery.
Willpower. I'm not going to criticize him this way, but this morning on his WABC radio show, John Gambling played devil's advocate and asked a caller, "It's a disability, don't you think?" The caller replied, "It's a disability that this guy is eating 14 times a day!"
Rosenthal recalled his humiliating experience after he collapsed on the steps of City Hall two years ago after he suffered a stroke and was rushed to NYU Downtown Hospital.

At the time, the 5-foot-7 Rosenthal tipped the scales at 465 pounds.

"It was difficult to find a bed to suit my needs," he said.

"The bigger horror was trying to leave the hospital. I couldn't get an ambulance that could pick me up and put me in a wheelchair."
And he wants to pass on the cost of his higher emergency medical care to the taxpayer.
Rosenthal said it took six people to lift him onto the floor of an ambulance, where he was tied down for a torturous ride to a rehab center in Far Rockaway.

"I had to beg the attendant to untie me so I could sit up, because I had difficulty breathing," Rosenthal added.
If his obesity is the taxpayer's fault, then NYC ought to tax being fat. If your body fat is 50% or more of your weight, you pay a huge surcharge along with your normal city income tax. As a union leader, Rosenthal is probably earning enough that he doesn't need to worry about this.

Let's make it $1000 per "fat" person. How can we enforce this? Clearly NYC can't require every resident to submit the results of a yearly Body Mass Index test, nor can citizens be relied on to "report" each other as fat (like how Singapore residents are encouraged to report each other for littering). This is how I'd do it: to qualify for "sturdy" ambulance service, you must first register with the city. Registration will require a flat fee, so effectively it would be like paying insurance. If you don't pay the tax, then your name is dropped off the list. And should you require one of those ambulances, well, tough luck.

With the exception of the rare medical condition (including those who have huge abdominal tumors that give the illusion of obesity or pregnancy), turning the fee into a progressive tax shouldn't be necessary at all. If you can afford to eat so much that you maintain that heavy weight, you can afford to pay the tax.

I admit that I put on 15 pounds working at Morgan Stanley for a couple of years. When I was just a college student, I ate fairly sparingly. But when I started getting paychecks and could afford to eat out, I frequently ate big breakfasts and rich lunches -- and I just didn't exercise enough.
Sanders' aides said they couldn't estimate the cost of compliance with his bill.

Super-sized medical equipment doesn't come cheap.

A specially motorized hospital bed for the morbidly obese was going for $18,500, said Bruce Lander, a spokesman for St. Luke's-Roosevelt Medical Center.

That's five times the price of a standard motorized bed.

An oversized wheelchair had a $2,446 price tag — eight times as much as a regular wheelchair.
I'm not surprised that Sander's multiple aides can't determine the cost. Did they really make any effort to, since it would immediately turn off voters? On the other hand, the Post reporter, Seifman, could find the information for a couple of items.


Blogger Nicolaj said...

Finally! An issue that NY officials can really through their weight behind. A really weighty issue. It weighs heavily on my mind. And what a heavy bill! That's a lot of dough... which is obviously being eaten by one of the beneficiaries of the extra-capacity ambulances.

Sunday, May 15, 2005 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

Haha, so true.

I've heard of getting fat at the public trough, but I see it applies to union leadership too.

Sunday, May 15, 2005 3:40:00 PM  

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