My message to California State Senator Jim Nielsen, Fourth District

First, Senator Nielsen's message to me:
Senator.Nielsen@outreach.senate.ca.gov
:36 PM (7 hours ago)
to undisclosed recipients
Dear Ms. Shortt:

Thank you for contacting my office to convey your support of Senate Bill 622 (Monning), a bill to add a one-cent-per-ounce tax on various sweetened beverages.  I appreciate hearing from you and having the opportunity to respond.
SB 622 passed the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on April 24 by a vote of 5-2. The bill subsequently passed the Senate Health Committee on May 1 by a vote of 7-2 and is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.  I voted in opposition to this bill when it came before me in the Senate Health Committee.
This tax is supposedly intended to compel individuals suffering from excessive weight gain or obesity to pay for the cost of the health services their related health risks may require; however, the tax also falls unjustifiably on those who do not suffer from issues related to obesity.  A fairer way of managing this risk would be to allow insurers to impose surcharges directly related to coverage for certain health risks such as obesity and tobacco use.  SB 622 also relies on the notion that the Legislature should assume the responsibility for controlling or penalizing through taxation a variety of life choices or activities it deems appropriate. 
Additionally, California already has some of the highest taxes in the nation - the highest personal income tax, state sales tax, gasoline tax, the eighth highest corporate tax, and high property taxes (even under Proposition 13) - and among the very worst business climates.  Last fall voters passed Propositions 30 and 39 which together are expected to collect nearly $70 billion over the next 7 years.  This year alone, my Democrat colleagues have introduced at least 21 new measures that either increase taxes or lower local voter thresholds to make it easier to raise taxes, with many of those taxes being on businesses that will ultimately be passed on to consumers and reduce citizens’ disposable income.  Additionally, it is important to note that this bill was specifically written to impose the soda tax at the distribution level, making the total cost of the product also subject to sales tax – a tax on the tax.
For these reasons, I do not support SB 622 as written.
If you are interested in tracking this or any other legislation, you can access the bill text, status, analyses and vote records from my Senate homepage at www.sen.ca.gov/Nielsen.
Again, thank you for writing.  You are welcome to communicate with me on other issues of particular interest to you.
Sincerely,
JIM NIELSEN
Senator, Fourth District

And here's my response: 

Thank you for writing to me, Senator Nielsen, I very much appreciate your time, and I am honored that you have read my concerns. As someone who has suffered and recovered from morbid obesity, I fully understand the costs of this disease, financially, physically and emotionally. There is no price tag large enough to estimate the actual cost of obesity in terms of medical care, time and production loss at work, and the physical, mental and emotional toll the disease takes on the patient and his or her family. Make no mistake, it IS a disease as classified by the American Medical Association.  Perhaps it is considered a "lifestyle choice" by some, but trust me, it is a horrendous existence. I wouldn't "choose" that disease for my ex-husband, who is the last person I would ever want to see again in my lifetime, even if tomorrow turns out to be Armageddon.
Here are the facts as I see them. The food lobby is extremely wealthy and powerful, especially here in California. I'm sure I don't have to tell you why this great agricultural state would have food lobbyists making the rounds in Sacramento.  Morbid obesity has skyrocketed since processed foods, in particular, high fructose corn syrup, has become more plentiful, and non-genetically modified food has proliferated in the supermarket aisles. In a newsletter published by The Center for Food Safety in May 2012 called Nutrition, Obesity and Processed Food, the authors write:
Estimates are that the food industry spends at least $36 billion a year marketing its products.5 The chain restaurant industry has played an especially vital role in encouraging Americans to rely on cheap, fast, and unhealthy foods. About one-half of all meals are now consumed outside of the home and research indicates that people eat less healthfully when dining out.
This paragraph was rather alarming to me was because even though I was at one time 200 pounds overweight, I refrained from sweetened soft drinks because they gave me headaches. Apparently, my preference is unusual, and it might have saved me from having an additional health problem, Type 2 diabetes :
Of particular concern is America’s love affair with sweetened soft drinks. Americans drink more than twice as much soda today as they did in 1971. One-half of the U.S. population consumes sugar drinks on any given day, and 25% consumes at least 200 calories (more than one 12-oz can of
cola). Males drink more than females and teen boys consume the most. An incredible 70 percent of boys aged 2-19 drink sweetened drinks every day and adolescents (ages 12–19) consume a whopping 273 calories per day from beverages. The science is clear that excess consumption of soft drinks contributes to obesity and type 2 diabetes, among other health problems, and is associated with overall poor diet. 
I respect you, Senator Nielsen, but I must say that I was quite surprised when I read this part of your letter to me: "This tax is supposedly intended to compel individuals suffering from excessive weight gain or obesity to pay for the cost of the health services their related health risks may require; however, the tax also falls unjustifiably on those who do not suffer from issues related to obesity." I've heard this argument before, however, obesity is only one health issue that has a direct correlation to processed sugars such as the high fructose corn syrup used in soft drinks. A rather fascinating study conducted by Elmhurst College demonstrates how sugars like high fructose corn syrup, which the soft drink companies have been using in their products since 1971, contributes to tooth decay. Other reports, which I personally consider to be less reliable, say that high fructose corn syrups and other sugars contribute to anemia, osteoarthritis, and high mercury levels. These studies would have to produce a lot more peer-replicated and reviewed papers before I would cite them, but I think my point is obvious: the main ingredient in soft drinks is high fructose corn syrup causes more health problems than obesity. To say that obese people should be the only ones to singled out for higher healthcare costs is rather disingenuous. Using your logic, we should also charge those who have extraordinary amounts of cavities, too. High fructose corn syrup affects the obese consumers as well as thin ones. Please do not say that you have never seen a thin person with cavities before. A statement like that would be insulting to both of us.

Now, on to my next concern, which is this sentence: "A fairer way of managing this risk would be to allow insurers to impose surcharges directly related to coverage for certain health risks such as obesity and tobacco use." I'll be blunt here: I find this position frighteningly callous. For all of its considerable wealth, California has an unacceptably high rate of citizens who do not have health insurance. You have stated that "California already has some of the highest taxes in the nation - the highest personal income tax, state sales tax, gasoline tax, the eighth highest corporate tax, and high property taxes (even under Proposition 13) - and among the very worst business climates." Be that as it may, California residents obviously haven't held the Legislature accountable for spending that money foolishly in the first place. Had we been more aware, and less focused on so Hollywood worship, we could have mobilized into action and averted this fiscal crisis. While it is never too late to make a course correction, Californians have a lot of garbage to clean up.  One example of the rubbish that is ours to clear is health care. In December 2012, The California Healthcare Foundation * wrote: 

In 2011, California had the largest number of people under age 65 without health insurance — 7.1 million — of any US state. The percentage of uninsured Californians has risen steadily over the past two decades; the state now has the seventh-largest percentage of residents without coverage in the United States.

The healthcare debate is an extremely complex one, and I realize this is not the proper forum to discuss that cumbersome issue. I will say, however, that I am weary of the complaints that California is overtaxed and unable to effectively provide for those unfortunate citizens, unlike those live in Massachusetts and find coverage under Massachusetts's General Health Plan. They already have devastating medical bills because of repeated emergency room visits and related health issues. How sad is it that Massachusetts, which has less than half the population of California and an even smaller state budget, can manage to provide healthcare for its most needy and vulnerable residents. California can do better for its citizens. As I see it, California residents have deceived themselves in believing that our legislators have our best interests at heart, and we have been deluded by those who have been bought and those who have done the buying. We will have to remedy that situation over the course of several elections.

However, I am sure that the health insurance corporations will be ecstatic if you favor imposing higher premiums and co-pays for obese patients. I predict that you will hear from their representatives in the Capital soon, if you haven't already.

Thank you so much again, Senator Nielsen and your hard working staff, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to respond to the petition I signed. I am honored to be the recipient of your commitment to interact with Californians, and humbled that you would share your thoughts with me.

Best regards,
Angela D. Shortt
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Emotional Incest

My former English professor and mentor

Thoughts as a result of the #MarchOnWashington