Obama Administration Actively Encourages Discrimination

Reader Deborah alerted me to new regulations released by the Obama administration under the Affordable Care Act increase the maximum reward for participating in employer wellness weight loss programs.  Employees who participate in these programs will be “rewarded” up to 30% of the cost of health coverage.

Said another way, people will be penalized for refusing to participate in programs which, though called weight loss program, have absolutely no record of successfully creating long term weight loss.  I’ll say it again – these programs have absolutely no evidence that they can achieve long term weight loss or improved health. In fact, many of these so-called “wellness programs” partner with diet companies that have been successfully sued by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive trade practices (you didn’t think that they voluntarily put those “results not typical” disclaimers on their ads, did you?)

I think that there should be an incentive for those people who have enough common sense NOT to sign up for a program with no track record of success, lead by companies that have lost so many lawsuits for deceptive trade practices that they are legally required to say that their product doesn’t work every time they advertise it.

This is discrimination based on how people look, straight up.  It has nothing to do with health because it’s not based on health – it’s based on body size.  Body size is not a measure of health and we know that because there are healthy fat people and unhealthy thin people and a K-2 sized mountain of evidence that says that habits are a better determinant for health than body size. Tall people have more health problems – maybe they should have to enter Height Watchers and work hard to get shorter or pay more for health insurance. Height Watchers’s success rate is only 5% less than Weight Watchers after all, let’s get cracking tall people. This is extra ridiculous since the Congressional Budget Office itself has said that fat people are not the reason for rising healthcare costs.  To be clear, if they were discriminating on health rather than body size, that would be no better.

Anytime we round up a group of people based on how they look and suggest that they need to change how they look or we’re going to charge them more money for something, we can be assured that we are headed down a bad road.  In this case it’s even completely contrary to the evidence that exists:

So the Federal Trade Commission has made it abundantly clear that dieting doesn’t work.  The Congressional Budget Office has made it clear that fat people are not the cause for rising healthcare costs.  Knowing this, the Obama administration is encouraging people to diet to lower health care costs.  Stop the logic train, we had a passenger fall off.

At the beginning of the year I was asked to write an article about why these so called “Carrot and Stick” benefit plans are a bad idea.  You can read the full article here but the gist is that dieting doesn’t work and organizations including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and National Women’s Law Association have come out against these programs because of legal issues. So if employers want a healthy workplace they should focus on providing a workplace free from discrimination and options for health like optional workplace walking clubs, discounts on gym memberships, fitness based workplace challenges (instead of weight loss challenges).  Now we can add to that not participating in government-encouraged discrimination.

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Published in: on November 28, 2012 at 10:37 am  Comments (26)  

26 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. LOL at ‘Height Watchers.’ Meanwhile, can we get a letter-writing or phone campaign going against this? We’d need the specific section of the regulations so that they know what we’re referring to, and obviously, names, addresses and phone numbers.

  2. My contention is that it is the structure of the American workplace with low vacation time, lack of paid maternity leave and low minimum wages (not to mention the problems with our health care system) that has led to the communal stress that breeds poor eating and marginalized self care and the burden on our health care system.

    • Brilliantly and concisely put!

  3. I’m not sure how I feel about the new regulations. On one hand they are increasing the the reward from a maximum of 20% to 30%, and on the other hand they make it sound like there will be strict anti-discrimination regulations. But what does that mean for fat people??

    Here is the link to the regulations if you haven’t seen it.

    http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2012/11/wellness11202012a.html

    There is a section about protecting consumers from discriminatory practices:
    –“Programs must be reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease”
    –“Programs must be reasonably designed to be available to all similarly situated individuals”
    –“Individuals must be given notice of the opportunity to qualify for the same reward through other means.”

    One of the problems of course is what it means to be “reasonably designed” especially if weightloss is the goal, and with the way our world is, of course that will be a goal, and of course people will fail. But I wonder if the anti-discrimination rules will actually be helpful for fat people or not.

    • Hi Jasie,

      There are three problems here. The first is that weight loss is seen as promoting health and preventing disease. The second is that fat people are not a Federally protected class when it comes to anti-discrimination law. Finally, the discussion about people who can qualify through alternative means is currently limited to those who can prove that their weight is due to a medical problem which can be extremely difficult in a world where doctors deny the existence of such problems.

      ~Ragen

      • Gah. Of course. That is extremely disheartening. When I first came across the regulations (in a HuffPost article) it made it sound as if they were clamping down on the wellness programs all together. I’m really disappointed about this.

      • Exactly right, Ragen – we are in a lose, lose, lose situation here!

        We need to put our collective heads together and do some research on what it takes to have fat people recognized as a class so that we can be federally protected. I’m sure the red tape is so completely ridiculous, that it will seriously take a miracle!

        It’s starting to scare me. I’ve heard more than one newly elected politician say that they’re going to be focusing on the obesity crisis when their new term begins. What does that mean for us?

  4. I’m with ChairmanMeow… is there anything being organized, perhaps by ASDAH, to address this? I’m feeling like we need to mobilize and go after this. I’m APPALLED that it’s being initiated by Obama. (I know, I shouldn’t be…after all, look at what Michelle has been up to. But I thought she had toned it down somewhere along the line… like someone was starting to get it. No?)
    And were these final regulations? Not proposed or open to comment? I hope we can do something.

  5. Reagan, do you send your blog post to the President? He should read it, ideally before he signs crap like that.

    • I second this! Maybe even see if we can make it a petition on whitehouse.gov and see if it can get 25000 signatures so they have to reply.

  6. Or maybe it’s time for another petition on a site like Change.org?

    This definitely needs to be protested.

    • The government takes no notice of internet petitions. It must be a legally signed petition for them to accept it.

      • Not even the petitions on the White House website? I thought they had to address though if they got enough signatures.

  7. How about a White House Petition at WhiteHouse.gov?

    • Excellent idea! Husband in hospital so I can’t organize *anything* beyond a semi daily shower, but if you build it I will come!

    • Great idea. If they get a certain number of signatures, it has to be reviewed. https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/ Don’t know how effective it is, but it’s something.

      I’ve grown to really like Obama over the past couple of years, but I can’t stand this stuff. I’ll raise a big ole stink with HR if my company does this.

    • I did some scanning of the white house site and you have to get 25,000 signatures in 30 days to guarantee a response, but I saw one with a much lower number of signatures that did get a response. If you want to know which way the wind is blowing in the Obama organization regarding weight loss, check out this response to a petition: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/response/treating-obesity-through-total-health-care. Their answers are not what we might be looking for regarding their perspective on obesity.

      I’m certainly happy to contribute to this project in any way possible, including taking a first stab at the text of the petition. I just think if we’re going to try something, we need to coordinate our efforts to the best of our abilities.

      • Gah! I like how he goes on and on about how rampant obesity is, but never once is forced to explain how or why obesity is bad for one’s health! Good gracious!

        • Yeah, I had the same thought. The scary thing is that, he doesn’t have to explain why, simply because it’s something “everyone already knows”. It is just assumed that everyone knows that obesity is bad and unhealthy. They have so effectively brainwashed our society into believing it, that they don’t even have to bother with telling the lies and half truths anymore. All the have to do is say the word Obesity and magically the words death and disease pop into heads of the general public.

          Oh and did you catch the part about “intensive behavioral therapy for obesity”? That is some scary shit the are throwing around there. Apparently are bodies are so disruptive to our fellow man that we now have to undergo “intensive behavioral therapy”. This shit is getting scarier every day.

  8. Thank you so much for writing this. It really is stressing me out. I feel like they’re going to hunt us down like vermin and try to exterminate us. I have never heard so much vile crap against fat people in my life.

    I don’t care what they say, they will have to drag my dead body to another weight loss program. I absolutely will NOT do it ever, ever again. I can’t tell you how much weight I have lost and regained in my lifetime, but the end result is that I now weigh 350 pounds. There is no way I ever would have ended up weighing this much if not for all the dieting and ridiculous exercise programs I did in my quest to fit the societal norm of America.

    If my employer ends up having to pay a higher insurance rate for me, I will probably have to pay the difference, but I don’t care. They’re not going to make me do it against my will. What is happening to our country? I’ve heard Michelle Obama say that she is going to focus on childhood obesity for the next four years. God help the next generation. There is going to be so much hate and negativity directed toward them if they’re overweight that we will have a generation coming up with eating disorders and distorted views toward fat people. For someone that is so concerned with racism, she is causing a huge amount of a different kind of discrimination.

    Okay, I am dismounting my soapbox. I’ve got myself all worked up now.

    Sorry!

  9. I think (if Ragen doesn’t mind) I’m going to print out this blog, along with other referenced blogs & send it to my congressmen, senators, & the White House. Ragen frames this issue better than I could. I hope you (Ragen) don’t mind & take it as a compliment. I suggest everyone else who reads this blog join me in this blog forwarding campaign! I’m tired of the anti bully/pick on the fat people double message.

    • I don’t mind at all, let me know if there is anything that I can do to support your activism – you completely and totally rock :)

      ~Ragen

      ________________________________

  10. Considering the fact that women and people of color still experience discrimination in hiring and recieve lower wages and fewer promotions, I suspect that they will suffer more from this policy, having less money to spend on health insurance. Also, women and people of color are more likely to be fat. Intersectionality, anyone?

    • Good point.

  11. It always amazes me why the gov’t feels the need to get involved in people’s personal lives. Oh wait, have to satisfy voters and big business. And how did our healthcare industry become so out of whack to begin with?…argh

    Ok, how does reducing healthcare premiums if you join a weight loss program make any sense? Now you’ll have to pay for said weight loss program, medications or even surgery if that be the case. Or will that be included as a perk of your 30% reward? Up to and including all the possible side effects of said weight loss program(s)? I lose weight and I’m now within the realm of your perceived normal but I now sport half a dozen weight loss induced health issues. Pray tell, who pays for those conditions?

    If the weight loss “program” is not included in the presumed 30% then you will have to pay for your “program” and you really haven’t saved at all. It goes to further line pockets of the diet/pharm/med/health industries while my TRUE health gets overlooked as everyone focuses even more closely on my WEIGHT and I could subsequently become prone to depression/anxiety/an ED/POOR health in many forms from fighting with my body, my self esteem, ego and emotions. Thus leading to psychiatric, therapeutic, in/out patient ED sessions, other conditions arising from poor nutrition, drug side effects, etc. all of which could eventually cost me more than the 30% reward. Forget the possible costs of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and related. Oh, which interestingly enough, goes to line the pockets of the pharm/med industry since prescribing antidepressants is the be all, end all way of treating the human condition. Let’s not forget drugs for high blood pressure brought upon by STRESS or frustration or the body struggling to maintain it’s well being while we try to force it to be something it is not – a subject of “scientific” public opinion. Rather than a part of us to be loved, cherished and honored.

    A bit overblown perhaps…but only a bit.

    So, for clarification: How will my 30% reward be funded? And who will profit? For some reason I don’t think the one profiting would be me.


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