The Daily Show, Comedy Central’s brilliant parody of TV News, wants to know why the American Heart Association (AHA), the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) apparently ganged up to kill legislation that would have rewarded healthy behavior.
In a segment entitled How a Bill Doesn’t Become a Law, Daily Show correspondent/comedian Wyatt Cenac reported on the death of H.R. 3472, a bill introduced in 2009 by then representative Kathy Dahlkemper that would have provided health insurance premium discounts of up to 20% for healthy behaviors relating to smoking, blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar.
Cenac reported that despite initial widespread support– “Democrats liked it as preventative care, Republicans liked its low cost”– the bill was killed because of opposition from the ACS, AHA, and ADA. Cenac’s summary: “so the groups that encourage people to exercise… are the same ones that opposed this bill encouraging exercise?”
Dahlkemper, who was not re-elected in 2010, said that the groups opposed the legislation because “some of the people they represent can’t make lifestyle changes to have a healthier life.” (A different and more detailed explanation from the AHA can be read at the bottom of this story.)
A Washington lobbyist told Cenac that to obtain their support groups like the AHA need to feel the legislation is “in their self-interest.” As a general rule, said the lobbyist, “giving everybody a taste of the business is a good idea.” The lobbyist agreed with Cenac that this was also a mafia principle, a concept which Cenac took a step further with a parody of The Godfather.
Naturally enough, the AHA disagrees with the Daily Show perspective, and provided me with a statement in response. (I would like to commend the AHA for their restraint, considering that at one point in the segment Cenac was dressed in an AHA-style heart costume smoking a cigarette!)
Here is the AHA statement:
Last night, The Daily Show featured a segment that portrayed the American Heart Association as working against Bill 3472, which was described as providing incentives through health care premiums for people who exercise. We appreciate the focus the show placed on promoting health in the workplace. In fact, the Bill describes health behavior as not smoking, having low blood pressure (within the normal range), a body mass index (BMI) in the normal range, and appropriate cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
The AHA is a strong supporter of comprehensive wellness and health promotion programs that address each of these health indicators and we support incentives to participate in these programs. While effective as comedy, the piece was inaccurate in portraying the bill and why we are opposed to this kind of legislation. This bill might open the door for discrimination of people with pre-existing conditions, and also those who are genetically predisposed to these conditions. Most importantly it would restrict access to healthcare to those who need it most and research has shown that this has a negative effect on health.
Once again, we support comprehensive health promotion programs and efforts that move the population toward healthier behaviors. We are also working hard to assure access to affordable, quality health care for all.