In an attempt to win back some ground on the student loan battle, Republicans have proposed legislation which would keep the interest rate on federally subsidized Stafford Loans at 3.4 percent. However, they would pay for it by repealing the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. The Fund is designed to support states and communities in fighting chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke and diabetes — a plan Republicans used to support.
Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a list of projects paid for by the law’s prevention program, slamming it as a “slush fund” and touting their votes to repeal it. But an analysis of national health care data shows that states represented by Republican members of the committee suffer from disproportionately high obesity and smoking rates and stand to benefit from additional investment in prevention. For instance, 14 of the states represented by a Republican are home to residents who smoke at rates at or above the national average (which stands at 19.3 percent), while eight have an obesity rate above 30 percent (national average is 35.7 percent):
StateObesity Rate (%)Smoking Rate (%)California24.012.9Colorado21.017.1Florida26.617.1Georgia29.617.7Illinois28.218.6Kansas29.417.8Kentucky31.325.5Louisiana31.022.1Michigan30.919.6Mississippi34.023.3Nebraska26.916.7New Hampshire25.015.8New Jersey23.817.9North Carolina27.820.3Ohio29.220.3Oklahoma30.425.5Oregon26.817.9Pennsylvania28.620.2Tennessee30.822.0Texas31.017.9Virginia26.019.0Washington25.514.6West Virginia32.525.6
As the committee’s own press release noted, several grants have been made to encourage Americans to engage in more physical activity, like biking, walking or “urban gardening,” which is designed to increase access to affordable fresh food. Others have been used to push for higher cigarette tax rates or a moratorium on fast food construction. As the data shows, obesity and smoking are at epidemic levels in these states; the programs the committee scoffed at could actually do a lot of good by bringing those rates down and lowering health care costs.
The White House has promised to veto the bill should it pass both houses of Congress, which is considered unlikely.