As we all know, public support for Obamacare derives from a common desire for the government to step into the healthcare industry and make it cost less. Supporters hope that the Affordable Care Act will lower health insurance costs by limiting corporate medicine’s profitability and increasing the percentage of our nation’s participation in the health insurance system. Setting aside for a minute such morally reprehensible concepts as a “healthcare industry” and “corporate medicine,” I think it is important to discuss why our health care costs so much in the first place. Yes, corporations drive up prices in order to increase their profits, and people without health care coverage increase the burden on emergency rooms nationwide. However, both the Affordable Care Act and our national political discourse fail to address the root of skyrocketing American health insurance costs.
American healthcare costs so much more than that of other countries because of our way of life. Our fatness is the proverbial elephant in the room. According to the government’s Center for Disease Control, the list of top ten killers in the United States is mostly a list of chronic conditions brought on by unhealthy living. Heart disease, cancer, lung diseases, and strokes are the top four. While it is true that people who exercise regularly don’t get these diseases as frequently, the biggest reason why these conditions are killing us is because we eat a lot of fatty food with low nutritional value that is grown with pesticides and infused with preservatives. We prepare ourselves for higher health insurance premiums every night as we prepare our family dinner.
I’m not saying that America should institute a fat tax like Japan has done, or that Obamacare’s fundamental weakness is the lack of a mandatory broccoli consumption clause. However, government subsidies and tariffs protect unhealthy agricultural practices and economically force the resultant unhealthy food products down our collective throats.
Data from the United States Department of Agriculture illustrate the point clearly; from 1995 to 2011, the US government spent $81 billion subsidizing the growth of corn in the United States. It also spent $34 billion on wheat production, $4.8 billion on dairy production, and $3.7 billion specifically on the subsidization of cows. Dividing that $3.7 billion evenly between each cow, the average American cow makes more per year than an average third world cattle farmer. In contrast, the highest subsidy for fruit was for apples, totaling $261 million. That is the government’s highest fruit or vegetable subsidy, and it’s less than we spent over the same time period on the subsidization of tobacco.
The US government also uses tariffs to promote the consumption of domestically produced crops, most notably corn. To do this, it caps the amount of imported sugar that can enter the country by excessively taxing tonnage above that amount. The Obama administration raised this fixed cap by 420,000 tons in 2012, marking the first increase of the limit in several years, but it was a political half measure, and the effects were minimal; Coca-Cola and its competitors still sweeten their drinks with corn syrup instead of normal sugar.
While Obamacare works to reduce the cost of drugs and treatments, it does nothing to eliminate the economic structure that necessitates their existence. It helps reduce the costs of drugs when you need them, but does nothing to address why we need them. Government subsidies promote unhealthy dietary choices by making it cheaper to eat unhealthy foods. When these foods inevitably make people sick, they turn to the pharmaceutical industry for help. Obamacare simply makes it cheaper to participate in this fundamentally flawed system. It is a government endorsement of a pharmaceutical-agricultural complex that exploits Americans for profit at the expense of their health. The architects of the PPACA constructed a bill which, instead of instituting real socioeconomic change, patches and perpetuates the existing order of exploitation. This is my problem with Obamacare.