Thursday, March 28, 2013
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the court decision striking down New York City's ban on certain sugary drinks sold in large containers. It seems that Mississippi has taken quite a different course than that recommended by Mayor Bloomberg of New York.
On March 21st, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law preventing counties, districts, and towns from enacting rules that limit portion sizes. This bill has been dubbed by the state as the “Anti-Bloomberg” bill. The Governor opined that the bill was intended to limit the role of government, and that it “is not the role of the government to microregulate citizens’ dietary decisions.” The Governor added that “[t]he responsibility for one’s personal health depends on individual choices about a proper diet and appropriate exercise.”
Interestingly enough, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2011 approximately 34.9% of Mississippi’s adult population was obese, which was the highest rate of obesity in the nation. Gov. Bryant countered with studies that show Mississippi’s obesity rate among children has dropped by 13.3% from 2005 to 2011. What the Governor failed to mention was that despite this drop, Mississippi still ranks among the top six states in the nation for obesity among high-school students, with approximately 16% being obese.
Mike Cashon, executive director of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, which lobbied for the Mississippi bill, reportedly opined that “It doesn’t prevent local government from promoting health foods. What it does do is prevent them from creating policy mandates for the sake of consistency and uniformity.” Arguably, this bill also keeps one of the largest profit sources in play for the restaurant and hospitality industry. Non-alcoholic beverages cost restaurants between $0.05 and $0.20 per serving, while reaping charges of $2.00 or more. In fact, the paper cup used to serve a soft drink costs more than the soda itself.
I am grateful to Jeffrey Enquist, U of Utah 3L and Biolaw Center fellow, for providing me with this post.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Just when I thought I had seen everything when it comes to deciding who gets health insurance and who does not, comes a report in Sunday's New York Times about how Tennessee administers its Medicaid program for "medically needy" residents. These are people who have very high medical bills, but would normally not qualify for Medicaid because their income is too high. If their medical debt is high enough that their income falls below a certain threshold after the medical debt is taken into account, they may be eligible for Medicaid. Qualifying for Medicaid may mean the difference between having access to needed health care and being unable to get treatment for a high-cost illness. Keep in mind that to qualify for the program, in addition to having high medical bills such that they are impoverished after the bills are paid, people must be elderly, blind, disabled, or be the caretaker of a child who qualifies for Medicaid. These traditional Medicaid populations are considered by society to be "the neediest among us," according to Justice Roberts' opinion on the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion.
Apparently, Tennessee limits enrollment in this program to the first 2,500 eligible callers who get through on the phone to the Tennessee Department of Human Services starting at 6:00 p.m. on a particular day once every six months. So if you are one of "the neediest among us," and happen to be able to continually hit "re-dial" on your phone at that time, or can use multiple phone lines to call, you might get lucky enough to get health insurance. According to the executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, this system leaves "huge numbers of desperately ill people . . . out in the cold." As lawmakers in many states (including Tennessee) debate about whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, they should consider whether or not the richest country in the world should require some of its most vulnerable residents to play the equivalent of a game of roulette in order to get access to health care.