Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Trillions in Spending, $100 Billion for Jungle Gyms?

Democrats’ ”New Era of Fiscal Responsibility?”

The Congressional Budget Office recently released its estimate of health reform legislation introduced by Senators Dodd and Kennedy, finding that only some of its key provisions—excluding the impact of a government-run health plan, significant Medicaid expansions, and three new health care entitlements—would raise the federal deficit by more than $1 trillion.  That number doesn’t count one of the new mandatory health programs excluded from CBO’s initial estimate.

  • Section 302(b) of the Kennedy bill establishes a new Prevention and Public Health Investment Trust Fund, spending $10 billion per year—$100 billion over a decade—to increase federal funding of “prevention, wellness, and public health activities.”
  • One of the programs eligible for the $100 billion in new federal spending is created in section 321 of the bill, which establishes new Community Transformation Grants.  Grants under the program should promote “creating healthier school environments, including increasing healthy food options [and] physical activity opportunities…creating the infrastructure to support active living…developing and promoting programs…[to] enhance safety in a community…[and] working to highlight healthy options at restaurants and other food venues.”
  • Under this rubric, programs like skate parks, jungle gyms, and midnight basketball programs could be eligible for more than $10 billion in annual federal grants.
  • If the $10 billion in potential funding for jungle gyms is intended to reduce childhood obesity, several alternative forms of spending could have a positive effect on each of America’s estimated 13 million overweight children at a lower cost to the federal government:
    1. Free 14-foot trampoline with enclosure ($4.6 billion);
    2. Free year-long membership to Bally Total Fitness ($4.7 billion); or
    3. Free annual pass to Breckenridge Ski Resort ($7.8 billion).
  • The $10 billion per year in federal prevention funding could be used to provide each American with a free pedometer—and still have more than $1 billion left over.
  • While the Kennedy bill expands federal spending by $100 billion to fund prevention programs, the legislation repeals a section of existing law that permits employers to provide premium discounts to workers based on healthy behaviors—the same incentives that have resulted in four straight years of zero premium increases at Safeway.

Although Members may support prevention and wellness activities, many Members may be concerned by the Kennedy bill’s prodigious spending in a time of trillion-dollar deficits—and question how this big-government approach to health care will actually be effective.