Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Searching for money

As my friend M and I sat drinking coffee outside Peregrine today, a man approached us and asked for money, claiming he was homeless and hadn’t eaten in two days. He didn’t look malnourished. He had on very nice clothes. When M offered to go inside and buy him a banana and a muffin, he kept insisting he needed money to go to MacDonald’s and then to take a bus. He gave up on us and approached other people walking down the sidewalk. We both concluded he was probably abusing some substance, but he hardly looked the part.

This encounter led to a discussion of the mired health care reform. M had a very novel solution to raising the necessary funding without necessarily affecting those of us who are quite content with our healthcare. What if there were to be a tax on processed foods, including most if not all restaurant food, but especially fast food?

We wondered if this might have the effect of causing people to make healthier choices in their diets, thereby lowering their need for health care intervention, but definitely resulting in a huge sum of money to support universal health coverage. Would people buying a soda even consider that a penny or two of the price would go to this fund?

Apparently the whole tax on soda idea has already been trounced in Congress, but I think there is a lot of merit in this approach that gives people choices in how they choose to spend their money. It would definitely imply a huge change in the mindset of this country to pull this off.

Maybe I’m biased because I don’t drink soda. Hmmmm...

Any thoughts?


Anonymous jamy said...

Umm, there's already a tax on restaurant food in most places and on some prepared food you buy at the grocery store. DC has a 10% restaurant tax! I don't think you can justify raising it.

Also, the McD's on Penn near Peregrine closed a while ago. I think you're right to think that wasn't what he wanted the money for.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I'd want to know more about who's eating prepared foods before leveraging a tax - slow foods seem more geared toward those with money.

I don't eat out a lot, but I don't think I'd want to pay more than our current 10 percent restaurant tax. We do need a solution, though.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Jamy -- I believe the tax on restaurant food in many European countries with successful health care systems is higher than 10%.

Although I don't live on the Hill, I did not recall seeing a McD's anywhere in the area.

Kristin -- Non-processed foods don't necessarily need to be "slow" foods. I can think of rice, eggs, lentils, and all sorts of fruits and vegetables that don't take very long to prepare. I do agree that fast food is more regularly consumed by those with less money, but perhaps that is part of our health care problem!

4:09 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I've had similar experiences, where someone asks for money for food and I offer food and they refuse it. I offered one woman an apple and she said, "Do I look like a f*cking fruit basket?" LOL! It's always kind of disheartening, if not darkly humorous.

Unfortunately, I don't think a fast food and/or soda tax would even begin to pay for health care. Besides, is it right to tax a McDonald's chicken sandwich and not Ben & Jerry's from the grocery store? Or a carton of heavy cream? What's less healthy, you know?

I think the only solution for health care is for those of us who are insured to realize that we may surrender some things -- like immediate elective procedures -- to make way for a system that provides for everyone. We gotta give something up. I'm not sure there's any other way.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve -- You are undoubtedly right. I keep looking for a silver bullet that will fix this mess, but none seems to exist!

11:05 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

I just noticed a typo (God forbid!) in the original post. It should have said "processed" food instead of "prepared" food. Oh well, the same arguments you have offered up probably still hold...

11:37 PM  

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