There is a bill filed this session in the General Assembly to nix the fee on state employees who don’t meet certain Body Mass Index requirements.
The “fat tax”, as it is known in the popular press, will kick state workers into a less generous health insurance plan if they are deemed obese. The original fat tax legislation was pushed during the State Health Plan crisis as lawmakers panicked about escalating costs. It was an understandable reaction to an emergency, but now is the time for cooler heads and brighter ideas to prevail.
Body Mass Index is not a good indicator of individual health or health costs. Obesity is complex and our science on the subject is incomplete. We don’t know enough to start taxing people for extra pounds. There are also serious discrimination concerns as socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity are intertwined with obesity in complicated ways that we don’t fully understand.
As Yale University scholar Rebecca Puhl recently wrote of North Carolina’s law:
Obesity, like many other expensive health conditions affecting employees, is a serious medical condition. Subjecting workers to financial penalties based on body weight is tantamount to charging employees for having a heart attack or needing chemotherapy — an idea that is unreasonable and unethical. While it is certainly imperative to reduce obesity and have a healthy workforce, North Carolina’s proposed solution to this problem is not the answer for several reasons.
The sensible legislation to repeal the fat tax was introduced in the House mostly by Republican lawmakers including Nelson Dollar, Pat Hurley, Dale Folwell, and Hugh Blackwell, although a few Democrats including Pricey Harrison and Chris Heagarty are co-sponsors.
A BMI penalty will not help anyone lose weight. It will punish those least able to pay higher insurance rates. Now that we have a bit more distance from the scramble of last session, and the prospect of a State Health Plan collapse, I hope legislators will strike this harmful provision.