Bad Eating Habits Cost U.S. $50 Billion a Year

Bad Eating Habits Cost U.S. $50 Billion a Year

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Plus, why Medicare for All is losing its luster
Thursday, December 19, 2019

Democrats Step Back from Medicare for All

Did you know there's a Democratic presidential debate happening tonight? No, really.

In a preview, Steve Peoples of the Associated Press notes that it's not clear why Democratic candidates are holding their sixth debate this week: "It’s just six days before Christmas, Congress is making history on multiple fronts in Washington and primary voters have shown decreasing interest in each of the first five rounds," he writes. "That’s not to mention that most of the candidates — those in the top tier, at least — would happily skip this end-of-year clash."

That's all fair, but there are some issues for the Democratic presidential candidates to debate. Impeachment, obviously. But the ground may be shifting in the health care debate as well, and Peoples suggests that Medicare for All has lost its glow for some of the candidates:

“It was a litmus issue for ambitious Democrats a year ago. But now, only one of the seven Democrats on the debate stage is promising to fight for Medicare for All immediately after taking office. That would be the bill’s author, Bernie Sanders, who is nothing if not consistent. The other progressive firebrand onstage, Elizabeth Warren, has settled on a plan to transition to Medicare for All by the end of her first term, while none of the other candidates would go even that far. Most support a hybrid system that would give consumers the choice to join a government-run system or keep the private insurance they have. No issue has symbolized the fight for the soul of the Democratic Party in 2020 more than this one. And yet, for now, the centrists appear to be winning.”

A new survey from The New York Times may help explain why. The survey of 4,093 adults taken earlier this month finds that while most Democrats approve of the general idea of Medicare for All, opinions are more divided once details of the plan are brought into play. Only a quarter of Democrats say they support Sanders's approach, “in which all Americans get their insurance from a single government plan.” The far more popular approach is the one taken by Pete Buttigieg and other centrists, in which the government would offer “Medicare for all who want it” while allowing private insurance to remain in place — an option chosen by 58% of survey respondents.

Obamacare in Limbo: Mandate Struck Down as Court Mulls Overturning the ACA

A long-awaited court ruling that threatened to strike down Obamacare arrived Wednesday, but it failed to provide a conclusive result regarding the future of the 2010 health law, likely extending the legal battle past the 2020 elections.

In a 2-1 decision, a panel on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which requires all Americans to buy health insurance, is unconstitutional. But the court did not rule on the broader question of whether the ACA itself was unconstitutional as a result, and instead sent the case back to a court in Texas for further consideration.

The original case: The appeals court was reviewing an earlier decision by Judge Reed O’Connor of the Federal District Court in Fort Worth, who ruled in a suit brought by a group of Republican state attorneys general and governors that the Affordable Care Act was no longer constitutional given Congress’s elimination of the penalty for those who fail to buy health insurance. The entire law must go, O’Connor said, because the mandate cannot be severed from the rest of the ACA.

Why it matters: If O’Connor can convince the higher court — and possibly the Supreme Court after all is said and done — that his analysis is the correct one, the Affordable Care Act could be revoked. Most experts say the results would be highly disruptive, with roughly 20 million people losing their health insurance and millions more facing a bewildering array of rule changes in the broader health care system.

Republicans may be relieved: Politically, the circuit court’s decision amounts to an early Christmas present for Republicans, says Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times. A final decision in the case is now unlikely before the 2020 election, allowing Republicans to avoid responsibility for creating chaos in the health care system — and to avoid having to formulate a replacement plan for the ACA, a task that has proven all but impossible for conservatives in recent years.

What happens next: Judge O’Connor has been ordered to “conduct a more searching inquiry” into the case and the reasons for his decision. “It may still be that none of the A.C.A. is severable from the individual mandate, even after this inquiry is concluded,” the two judges who voted to uphold part of O’Connor’s ruling wrote. “But it is no small thing for unelected, life-tenured judges to declare duly enacted legislation passed by the elected representatives of the American people unconstitutional.”

How the GOP Gave In to Trump on Government Spending

There’s no doubt that it’s President Trump’s party now. Wednesday’s impeachment vote was just the latest indication that Republicans have lined up squarely behind the president, but this week offered another dramatic sign as well. As The Washington Post’s Robert Costa reports, Congress approved a nearly $1.4 trillion spending package that will push deficits well beyond $1 trillion a year — but there was “hardly a peep from many Republicans who have shut down the government over spending in the past.”

Costa continues:

“The mammoth spending deal provides another stark indication of the Republican Party’s near-total capitulation to Trump, who pays little mind to the goals of fiscal austerity that animated the GOP establishment and its tea party wing during years of dramatic fiscal standoffs with President Barack Obama.

“But as Trump has rallied the GOP to defend him from Wednesday’s House impeachment vote, the Republican drumbeat on the looming threats of debt and deficits has faded — replaced with an increasing emphasis on grievance politics, tax cuts and revamping the judiciary. …

“Democrats and some conservative Republicans see rampant hypocrisy in this turn of events, particularly after Republicans made shrinking the size of government a central pillar of their agenda during the Obama years.”

Some critics of the GOP argue that the party’s Obama-era alarmism was always more about bludgeoning Democrats and blocking progressive policies than about fiscal responsibility. And they say that conservatives care more about slashing taxes than they do about deficits, pointing to the 2017 Republican tax law — and President George W. Bush’s two terms — as evidence.

To be sure, some Republicans have pushed back on the latest spending deal, and the conservative House Freedom Caucus officially opposed it, citing debt and deficit concerns. Other Republicans called it a flawed but necessary compromise to fund the military and keep the government from shutting down. Either way, as Costa notes, GOP lawmakers have consistently shied away from pointing any fingers at Trump, focusing instead on the lack of interest among Capitol Hill lawmakers of both parties in addressing the long-term challenges facing Social Security and Medicare.

For now, Republicans who do try to press debt and deficit concerns find little traction around the issue. Costa points to the short-lived presidential campaign of Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina governor who recently dropped his primary challenge to Trump. “I thought there was still a market for conservatism that would go after the debt and deficits,” Sanford tells Costa. “I thought my conversations with Republicans years ago about those issues were real. I’m not sure anymore if they were.”

Read the full piece at The Washington Post.

Americans’ Unhealthy Diets Cost More Than $50 Billion a Year: Study

A new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine says that adopting better eating habits could save Americans more than $50 billion a year in health care costs due to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and related illnesses. Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Tufts University in Massachusetts conclude that Americans’ unhealthy eating habits result in annual costs of about $300 per person — and that doesn’t factor in how dietary factors may contribute to other diseases such as cancer.

A separate study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine predicts that, by 2030, nearly half of Americans will be obese and nearly one in four will be severely obese. "The high projected prevalence of severe obesity among low-income adults has substantial implications for future Medicaid costs," said lead author Zachary Ward of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Aviva Must, chair of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, told CNN that the cost implications are broader: "The societal cost is high, both in terms of obesity-related health consequences and healthcare expenditures which could bring us to our knees."

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