Monday, November 5, 2012
Jay Battacharya (Stanford University School of Medicine, Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research) presents Obesity and the Redistributive Effects of Medicare at Loyola-L.A. today as part of its Tax Policy Colloquium Series:
Should [the] widespread obesity epidemic be a cause for alarm? From a personal health perspective, the answer is an emphatic “yes.” Obesity has been linked to increased incidence of several chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, and to lower life expectancy. But when it comes to justififications of public policy for reducing obesity, the analysis becomes more complex. A common starting point in such discussions is the assertion that those who are obese impose higher health costs on the rest of the population — a statement which is then taken to justify public policy interventions. But the question of who pays for obesity is an empirical one, and it involves analysis of how obese people fare in labor markets and health insurance markets. We will argue that the existing literature on these topics suggests that obese people on average do bear the costs and benefifi ts of their eating and exercise habits. We begin by estimating the lifetime costs of obesity. We then discuss the extent to which private health insurance pools together obese and thin, whether health insurance causes obesity, and whether being fat might actually cause positive externalities for those who are not obese. If public policy to reduce obesity is not justififi ed on the grounds of external costs imposed on others, then the remaining potential justififi cation would need to be on the basis of helping people to address problems of ignorance or self-control that lead to obesity. In the conclusion, we offer a few thoughts about some complexities of such a justifification.
Dana Goldman (USC School of Public Policy) is the commenter.