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Under Medicare for all, government may micromanage your pizza order

February 2, 2019

Medicare for All could mean pizza for none.

It sounds ridiculous. But look at what’s happening in the United Kingdom, where the government runs the health system.

To combat the country’s obesity epidemic, officials proposed limiting the number of calories permitted in thousands of foods. A single-serving pizza would be allowed a maximum of 928 calories. A savory pie, no more than 695.

Invasive measures like these might sound like the stuff of a totalitarian dystopia. But when the government foots the bill for our medical expenses, it has a financial incentive to micromanage our health. If Democrats succeed in establishing a single-payer system here, Uncle Sam could have a plausible case for dictating our diets, too.

British officials face a constant challenge — how to keep a lid on medical spending when patients have no incentive to moderate their use of “free” healthcare services.

One way to reduce public healthcare spending is to change consumers’ behaviors. Under socialized medicine, what foods we eat, how much we exercise, how we commute, and virtually all other private decisions become matters of public concern.

In April, the government implemented a tax on high-sugar drinks. Officials are considering other intrusive measures — like banning the sale of sweets at the checkout counter, nixing junk food advertisements on television, preventing people under 18 from buying energy drinks, and taxing milkshakes and sugary iced coffees.

This is likely just the start. As public health minister Steve Brine declared, the state is “willing to do whatever it takes to keep children healthy and well in this country.”

Whatever it takes? Are mandatory daily exercise programs and cameras that monitor what people eat far off? Will people have to turn to the black market to get their french fry fix?

Here in the United States, Obamacare has already begun making demands of us in exchange for state-sponsored health insurance.

The law ordered insurers to help obese people lose weight. Most health plans must provide screening and counseling for obesity at no extra charge to patients.

In addition, Obamacare mandated that chain restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, amusement parks, and vending machines include calorie counts on their menu items. The thinking was that this would encourage — or embarrass — people to cut their caloric intake.

The government spent a substantial amount of time and public money figuring out how to define terms like menu, menu board, restaurant food, and restaurant-type food. The rule was delayed multiple times over four years as officials tried to determine how to implement it without bankrupting businesses.

All that effort was likely wasted. According to a wealth of academic research, displaying calorie counts doesn’t prompt people to change their diets.

Medicare for All’s price tag would eclipse $3 trillion a year. Even doubling the Treasury’s tax take would be insufficient to cover that tab. So if Democrats take over the country’s healthcare system by implementing Medicare for All — with its outright ban on private coverage — they’ll have 3 trillion reasons to do all they can to curb health spending.

Great Britain has responded to this cost conundrum by trying to tell people what they can and can’t eat. For the sake of our pizza — and our privacy — we mustn’t bring socialized medicine here.

Sally C. Pipes is President, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is The False Promise of Single-Payer Health Care (Encounter 2018). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.

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