Health Insurance Industry Takes on McDonald’s

Say what?

Imagine a world where health insurance companies insist that school lunches be healthy and fresh, made with local foods and where the American Medical Association puts its full political weight behind a ban on soda advertising.

Imagine that these same players start taking a strong interest in this country’s agribusiness and poise themselves to do some major damage to the subsidized interests in the next fight in Congress over the farm bill.

Believe it or not, according to Michael Pollan in his latest New York Times editorial, these events are not so far off and are the likely outcome of even the lightest version of health care reform to come–what he calls a “game changer.”

“Even under the weaker versions of health care reform now on offer, health insurers would be required to take everyone at the same rates, provide a standard level of coverage and keep people on their rolls regardless of their health. Terms like “pre-existing conditions” and “underwriting” would vanish from the health insurance rulebook — and, when they do, the relationship between the health insurance industry and the food industry will undergo a sea change.”

The moment the health insurance industry stops putting its energy and money into preventing health care reform, they will start to relearn what actually will affect their bottom line. Unable to drop people or deny claims we can imagine that they actually will be investing their money in reducing childhood obesity or championing against highly processed food with known cancer-causing chemicals.

If this actually comes to pass it will be remarkable. Our entire food system and health delivery system has grown into one of “perverse incentives”, although as Pollan says

“…food system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health care reform. And so the government is poised to go on encouraging America’s fast-food diet with its farm policies even as it takes on added responsibilities for covering the medical costs of that diet. To put it more bluntly, the government is putting itself in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.”

What is remarkable is that both of these challenges–health care reform and that of agribusiness and the food industry–seemed to be so intractable. What a marvelous insight to set them against each other.

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