Alabama Taxing Fat People?

Is Alabama really going to start taxing its overweight citizens at a higher rate than other Alabamians? That is what one might infer from numerous national headlines this past week. But is it true? Not really, and it just shows how the media is willing to manipulate a story to generate a shocking headline.

The story being covered is about the Alabama State Employees’ Insurance Board and its decision to charge state workers twenty-five dollars a month for single coverage health insurance beginning in the year 2010. I am an employee of the State of Alabama, so I do have a little first-hand knowledge of this situation. And I can say that most media write-ups contained multiple inaccuracies. As an example, I will use an article posted on Health.com.

In the article, it is stated that the SEIB will charge overweight workers twenty-five dollars a month. That is not quite accurate. As I stated in the last paragraph, the fee applies to everyone who has single coverage. However, the Board will be offering a “wellness premium discount” of twenty-five dollars (essentially making coverage free again) to anyone who follows certain guidelines that the Board has laid out, which can be found at this link). If you take the time to read the information about the wellness discount, observe that even employees at risk due to their health can still receive the premium discount provided that they follow a few simple steps.

The next inaccuracy in the article is where it says health insurance “is currently free for all state employees.” How I wish that were true! What the writer may have meant is that up to this point, single coverage has been free. People with families (like myself) who want to cover their spouses and children have had to pay a sizable monthly premium for years.

Next, Health.com states that Alabama is the second fattest state in the country, right behind Mississippi. While that was true for 2007, the latest data shows that West Virginia has inched its way (no pun intended) ahead of Alabama for 2008. Still not good, but slightly better than what the article says.

Finally, I want address the notion of calling the twenty-five-dollar health insurance premium a “tax”. While the State Employees’ Insurance Board is an agency of the State of Alabama, in many ways, it acts very much like any other insurance provider one might encounter. The Board certainly has no authority to levy taxes, which is solely the privilege of the Alabama Legislature. What we are talking about is not a tax; it is a premium like what is assessed by insurance companies the world over. This is the first time I have ever heard of an insurance premium being called a tax, and I am not certain whether it is ignorance on the part of the media or a deliberate deception.

In conclusion: no, obese people do not have to pay a “fat tax” in Alabama. And yes, you should be skeptical of everything you read — even relatively mundane stories like this one.

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1 Comment »

  1. So true, the media is (sadly enough) not the independent institution they still claim to be. Most stories are “pimped” for more viewers and the like. Your example is a good one to show how items can be twisted to show something else. Luckily we have the blogsphere with lot of criticasters ready to point out the mistakes that are made.

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