HHS Demands Scarlet “F” for Americans

Andrew Langer President, Institute for Liberty
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Back in April of 2008, TIME Magazine published a report detailing how the American obese reported feeling more discrimination than they had in the past decade. Ever compassionate, TIME speculated that, given the rising level of obesity in the country, it was reasonable to expect tolerance for those struggling with weight. Alas, however, the report indicated at the time that the general public was increasingly unforgiving of their heavier countrymen and women. Readers couldn’t help but take the hint. The piece even went so far as to suggest laws prohibiting discrimination against the obese.

Today, according to new federal regulations issued last week, all Americans must have an electronic health record (EHR) on file that records not only traditional height and weight, but also Body Mass Index (BMI), a wildly inaccurate measure of body fat used to “determine” obesity.

The regulations are part of last year’s stimulus law dictating all Americans must, by 2014, have an EHR on file. They were issued by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and, coupled with Michelle Obama’s stated mission to eradicate obesity, certainly indicate that the federal government may be interested in a person’s placement on the obesity scale for reasons other than simply record-keeping.

This kind of regulatory irresponsibility proves why the so-called stimulus bills failed to create jobs – they were, in fact, bloated with meaningless regulatory proposals. It’s no secret America has a weight problem. And it isn’t just confined to what’s consumed – it’s extended all the way to an obese government bureaucracy;

There is something incredibly disturbing about having a “fat stamp” on one’s health information. Federal public policy history is replete with examples of intrusive programs that began as innocuous reporting requirements – and given the role that the HHS is going to be playing in health care delivery, one can only imagine what these stamps will be used for later.  Right now it’s an expensive, and fairly meaningless, reporting system.

If federal policymakers want to deal with the most at-risk populations associated with obesity, then there are more effective ways. A better start would be to reform the various food programs at the Department of Agriculture, or change for the better what low-income populations are able to purchase using taxpayer dollars.  This will save tax dollars in the longer term for government-run health care programs serving needy populations.

Keeping track of where people fall on the obesity scale smacks of lazy policy making and, at the most extreme, a stunt that seeks nothing more than yet another way to burden the taxpayer by forcing them to pay for yet another unnecessary and expensive government program.

Andrew Langer is the President of the DC-based Institute for Liberty, a think tank devoted to aggressively defending the rights of the individual and small business owner.

Andrew Langer