At a recent hearing in Austin, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a liberal Democrat from Houston, protested the idea of creating financial disincentives for state employees that don’t better manage their health. Rep. Coleman said, “I think that’s a slippery slope,” and added, “next thing, we’ll be charging people by the pound.” On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable comment, but when you look a little deeper it seems to stink of hypocrisy.
In addition to being a leader on health policy for Texas Democrats, Rep. Coleman is one of 32 members to serve on President Obama’s State Legislators for Health Reform taskforce, and has been a staunch supporter of ObamaCare.
Here’s some background. In response to an interim charge from Texas’ House Speaker, Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), the House Committee on Public Health, of which Rep. Coleman is a member, held a joint hearing on May 10, 2010, with the House Committee on Appropriations Sub-Committees on Health & Human Services and General Government.
Among other things, Speaker Straus asked the committees to look into health care cost trends, and make recommendations for future reductions.
During the hearing, Ann Fuelberg, the executive director of the Employee Retirement System, which oversees the insurance program for state employees, announced that voluntary health and wellness incentives didn’t appear to be reducing overall health care costs to the state.
Ms. Fuelberg provided the committees with several suggestions, including “contribution strategies” that would penalize tobacco use, and mandate worker’s participation in certain disease management and physical therapies.
The mere mention of targeting cigarettes apparently ruffles Rep. Coleman’s tobacco-tinged feathers, which led him to respond, “…you don’t penalize people for their health or lack thereof.” Saying her agency would defer to the will of the Legislature, Ms. Fuelberg added that these ideas are “open for debate; open for discussion,” and can be used to manage and shift costs.
It’s surprising, if not welcomed, that a liberal Democrat would suggest Texans be watchful of a government program that would interfere with personal decisions involving a legal product. Of course, it’s also well known that Rep. Coleman enjoys cigarettes himself.
Regardless, Rep. Coleman is correct that we should be watchful of governmental encroachment on personal liberties. How he reconciles this with his ardent support of ObamaCare is not clear.
With the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office now increasing it’s cost estimates for ObamaCare by at least $115 Billion, such cost containment measures will likely be considered, and thrust upon all Americans. Perhaps Rep. Coleman will step forward, as a prominent health advisor to the president, and demand the removal of any provisions that limit individual freedom.
But wait, since failure to participate would result in the ultimate contribution strategy, a tax levy enforced by the IRS, would that then mean he would have to advocate for its repeal?