Where There’s Smoke…

A common argument that people who oppose nationalizing health care make is that they should not hold the burden for other people’s mistakes, such as their own self-inflicted addiction to nicotine or inability to exercise and eat healthy. And although this argument is rational and valid, it does not mean that those with health problems should have to pay a significant more amount than a “healthy” person.

We all know how health care works: the people that are healthy have it and the people that are ill don’t. When applying for health care, if you show any signs of illness in the future, such as a family history of Diabetes or cancer, you will most likely be denied this luxurious privilege. Now, doesn’t this seem highly contradicting? Shouldn’t a person who is ill, or can possible become ill, get life insurance solely on this basis? Many cancers, for example, can be successfully treated when found at an early stage. Without health care, people are forced to wait until the last minute to get checked because they can’t afford the ridiculous costs for something as simple as a check-up.

Well-known and powerful companies today, including the infamous Wal-Mart, are implementing a policy where those with unhealthy lifestyles, primarily smokers and the obese, are forced to pay up to two $2,000 more per year in insurance. Their justification for this new policy is that they want their workers to take more responsibility for their health and well-being. This program is supposed to offer an incentive of wellness; in other words, it’s supposed to encourage the smoker to put out the cigarette and for the overweight person to put down the fork. What they don’t realize is that sometimes these people just can’t quit something that they’ve held on to for a myriad of years. Overcoming nicotine addiction is not feasible to most; quitting can take up to years and because this policy is imminent, they will have to pay the surcharges.

Another unlawful aspect of this heinous crime is that some companies, for example and again, Wal-Mart, did not even give their employees advanced notice about these charges. Because the inconveniences came so abruptly, employers were coerced into paying the charges because they did not have enough time to even attempt to quit smoking or consult a doctor about their problems.

It’s quite obvious that the people who pass these laws are people with health care and those who live a “healthy” life. What they don’t realize is that sometimes the detrimental lifestyles that people live are not completely a result of their own will and choice. Being obese as a child, for example, is not really your fault, and I’m not saying that the blame should be on the parent, either. To bring personal factors into a workforce is plain wrong. Right now certain criterions are smoking and weight, but in the future it could be worse: it could be something as foolish as gender or sexual orientation.

The fascinating part is trying to define a “healthy” being. Is a healthy person somebody with a strong immune system that seldom gets sick and has the energy of a thousand storms? Would a person that has a cigarette once a week, but has no serious conditions, be considered unhealthy because of his lifestyle? To penalize employees who smoke or enjoy consuming unhealthy foods is absolutely unethical. To set up a criterion in the first place, and then condemn others through surcharges if they don’t meet them, is completely blasphemous.

I can’t really say who the blame should be put on, really. Nor who should be taxed. The rich should not be condemned to pay for the unhealthy lifestyles of the working class, but the working class should not be damned to pay a ridiculous amount of money for something as inconsequential as not fitting in to society’s weight expectations. I agree that smoking habits and over-indulging can be deleterious to one’s health, but I don’t think that the way to motivate these people to stop their debaucheries is through a dishonorable charge.

Sergio Flores is a second-year English major. He can be reached sergiof1@uci.edu.