“Soda: It’s Bad for You.”

“Soda: It’s bad for you.” That’s the main reason why a growing number of public health experts and government officials propose taxing it, because soda consumption contributes to the obesity epidemic. Experts at Johns Hopkins call the trend “a public health crisis,” projecting that by 2015, 75 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese. No one’s more at risk than Latinos. So tough as it is, Latino leaders should put down the bubbly and step up to the plate in support of soda taxes.

Most of us grew up with a soda in our hands and a twelve-pack in the pantry, but it’s time to wake up and smell the stench of empty calories. Diabetes Health reports that researchers from UCLA and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy discovered “a strong correlation between soda consumption and weight.” Specifically, they found that “adults who drink a soda or more per day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight than those who do not drink sodas.” The results were published in a study called, “Bubbling Over: Soda Consumption and Its Link to Obesity in California.”


For the People: A Mercy Killing.

In several conversations about health care legislation over the course of the past year, I argued for taking whatever we could get.  I reasoned that a defeat now would likely be a defeat forever, as national health care would face its second consecutive failure under its second consecutive Democratic president, and would strengthen the argument that the people of the U.S. would never accept national socialized medical care.  I have theorized that the smallest victory now would establish a base camp of sorts that future legislators could work to move toward more all-encompassing health care coverage.

Today, I am of a different mind.  The health “insurance reform” that the Senate has crapped out is a vile, dishonest rape of the notion that Americans will see any sort of relief from the corporate, for-profit machinery of the insurance industry.  The bill must die.


Texas Hispanics Might Lose if Opt-Out Public Option Wins.

You win some and you lose some. So it might go for Texas if Congress ends up approving health care reform including an “opt-out” public option. But this is a life and death battle Texas Hispanics simply can’t afford to lose.

Earlier this week, the Senate’s Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nevada), stated his intent to craft a bill that incorporates a government-administered public option while permitting individual states to opt out. The details of how such states could opt out are still unclear. It is most likely, however, that states would initially be included in the reform. Legislatures could then vote to opt out, requiring final gubernatorial approval.

While many in the media have seen this development as a victory for liberal Democrats, I see it as a cop out designed to secure the votes needed in the Senate to avoid a filibuster while potentially sacrificing the needs of some of the neediest populations in our country when it comes to health coverage and health disparities.


Should We Tax Fat to Reform America’s Health?

Here’s a whopper for you to chew on: Why not tax fat?

We tax cigarettes, gasoline and alcohol to dissuade their use and help pay for the damage they cause. So why not tax unhealthy food to reduce its appeal as well as pay for the health care costs generated by the growing burden of obesity? For added convenience and speed, I’d start by ordering up such a tax on fast food, pronto.

Let’s face it, two/thirds of Americans are afflicted by the obesity epidemic. Our expanding national waistline correlates to our bulging health care budget, accounting for $147 billion a year in medical bills. Experts at Johns Hopkins project that by 2015, 75% of Americans will be overweight or obese, calling the trend “a public health crisis.” Rather than accept it, why not fight the fat? It starts and ends with taxpayers, so why not grease the wheels with a fat tax?

The biggest reason people are obese is the way they eat. And cheap, fast food is at the congested heart of the matter. According to TIME Magazine, it is the largesse of taxpayers that enables McDonald’s to offer a Big Mac, fries and a Coke for under $5. Our tax dollars underwrite USDA subsidies to corn farmers. Cheap, abundant corn feeds our obsession with beef and pork, whose mass production relies on low-cost, unsanitary methods masked by antibiotics. All to feed America’s insatiable appetite for self destruction. Seen the glut of commercials touting bacon cheeseburgers lately? Given that the industry spends $10 billion in annual advertising, I reckon so. Heard of Burger King’s new “Enormous Omelet Sandwich?” Or Hardee’s “Monster Thickburger,” weighing in at 1,420 calories and 107 grams of fat? Yes, they chose those names, not me.  And their branding gurus make fat sound cool. According to MSNBC, the fun and games are a result of a “race among fast-food companies to lure customers with bigger, fattier and more filling menu offerings.”

Well, I’m glad someone’s running. Unfortunately, the only fast track the people buying this value-priced smorgasbord of excess are currently on is a one-way to the ER preceded by a pit stop at the newly expanded Big & Tall section of their friendly, accommodating, neighborhood Wal-Mart.

Sadly, our culture of obesity – in which fat is the new normal – is costing us dearly and will likely kill us unless we come to terms with the fact that it’s not healthy and it’s not good, not for individuals, not for our country, and certainly not for taxpayers.

You see, after our tax-payer subsidized corporate agriculture industry enables fast-food giants to ply us with sinful delights for some denomination of 99 cents, our obesity bloats our health costs, which in turn must be underwritten in some way or another by guess who? Taxpayers, the go-to item on the Congressional drive-thru menu. So as taxpayers fund the subsidies for the cheap entrees and pick up the tab for the care and drugs for the generously included sides of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, etc., I’m left wondering: who’s profiting?

When I diagrammed the cycle of profiteering, I came up with: agribusiness, pharmaceuticals (70% of anti-microbial drugs are administered to animals, not humans), food manufacturers, fast-food/restaurants, and finally health care and pharmaceuticals (again) trying to clean up the mess. Perhaps I should include leather goods companies benefiting from selling longer belts or lumber companies supplying extra wood for super-sized coffins?

Interestingly, when I cross-referenced the beneficiaries with the ranking of Top 50 Congressional contributors I discovered a Double Whopper: Health Professionals (#2), Insurance (#6), Pharmaceuticals (#11), Hospitals (#21), Crop Production (#22), Food & Beverage (#39), and Food Processing/Sales (#50). How’s that for a Monstrous Combo Meal?

Apparently, our tax dollars and special interest contributions have engendered subsidies to a system designed to make us sick at our own expense. So, as we consider how to pay for health care reform, we should consider this tasty approach:

Tax fast food and high-fat, processed foods. Place a surtax on companies profiting from the sale of such foods. Shift subsidies away from corn towards the production of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as organic, sustainable farming so that healthier, more natural food becomes as affordable and accessible as Chicken McNuggets.

While we’re at it, let’s regulate fast food advertising so our kids aren’t brainwashed to seek out happiness in a vacuous meal by age 3.

Finally, I respectfully suggest that the First Lady build on the success of her organic garden to lead the fight against fast food as a fundamental component of the White House’s proposed health care reform.

After all, the best place to start reforming our broken health care system is by first nourishing a healthier America. How’s that for a Big Mac Attack?

Rudy Ruiz has been hailed as a cultural visionary. A published author and multicultural advocate, Ruiz is an acclaimed multicultural communications entrepreneur. He founded Red Brown and Blue as well as Interlex, one of the nation’s leading advocacy marketing agencies ranked by Ad Age as one of the Top US Agencies across all disciplines. Prior to that, Ruiz earned his BA in Government at Harvard College and his Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Public Option: Much-Needed Insurance for Latinos

Most people today are focused on health insurance reform. I’m concerned about ensuring that the Latino community’s needs are fully met by such a reform.

There are approximately 46 million uninsured Americans. About 1/3rd of those are Latinos. And according to the White House, 34% of Latinos lack health insurance.

“Latinos are by far the largest group of uninsured,” President Obama said. “Passing reform that addresses the vulnerability of this community is a critical pillar for a new economy.”

So how do we ensure reform meets not only the exigencies of reluctant Republicans and balking Blue Dogs but also the urgencies of the Latino uninsured?

Digging into the numbers and my experiences as a public policy communicator, I believe the Public Option is crucial to meet the needs of underserved communities.

Our privately-run health care system has failed minority groups dismally for generations, contributing to deadly health disparities among Latinos and Blacks. I’m not convinced regulating the same old health insurance providers while squeezing their budgets will create the paradigm shift required to radically alter this industry’s approach to the unique challenges Latinos face. According to the Office of Minority Health, “Hispanic health is often shaped by factors such as language/cultural barriers, lack of access to preventive care, and the lack of health insurance.” Making matters worse, Corporate America faces cultural obstacles of its own in tackling minority health needs.

My skepticism is informed by my experiences at Interlex, the advocacy marketing agency I co-founded in 1995, through which I’ve worked with the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, numerous State health departments, and over a dozen hospitals.

At one point, Interlex was engaged by an insurance company specializing in illnesses that severely impact Latinos. The company – devoid of Latino executives – required assistance connecting with our community. We flew into action. The first obstacle was that they had not allocated time for developing culturally relevant materials, forcing us to merely translate their CMS-approved copy to hit their launch date. Accustomed to creating in-culture communications, we were chagrinned but determined to introduce Latinos to this important resource for their prevalent conditions. We overcame the content challenge via imagery and a grassroots team penetrating barrios and churches with the potent air cover of a multimedia campaign. Response exceeded the client’s goals. Then the second obstacle emerged. Insufficient leads were converting into customers. Among those enrolled, retention suffered. What was wrong? We discovered the answer speaking with patients. The health insurance company with the plan designed and marketed for Latinos had failed to hire bilingual salespeople, customer service representatives and clinicians to sell the plan and deliver the care. How did they correct this? Did they hire and train new personnel? Did they regroup and reengineer their approach to be more culturally relevant? No. Instead they pulled the plug on their Latino effort altogether. Servicing Latino customers – given their special needs – was more costly than projected and the returns less lucrative than anticipated. Latino patients were simply not “good business.” So, adios, amigos.

Welcome to traditionally underserved communities. If they were easier to serve and if corporations better understood how to profit doing so, they wouldn’t be neglected. Health disparities might become a distant memory of vanquished social injustice.

That’s why the Public Option is vital. It will provide a recourse for those not adequately – or equitably – served by private insurers. Through my work with government health agencies, I’ve found they’re largely comprised of fair-minded civil servants with a genuine concern for traditionally underserved audiences. They draw on extensive experience conducting outreach and purveying assistance to low-income Latinos. In Texas, when Interlex served the Department of Health, 66% of WIC’s client base was Latino. You better believe we were developing in-culture, in-language materials and they were providing service in Spanish. Public health professionals with this base of experience can build on the effectiveness of programs like Medicaid and WIC to cover and serve the 15 million uninsured Latinos. And they don’t operate under the pressure of hitting profit goals to earn bonuses at the expense of patients.

The President – buoyed by Latino leaders – should champion a Public Option within health care reform.

According to the National Hispanic Medical Association’s president, Elena Rios: “Hispanics have the worst record in terms of [health disparities.] We have the most to gain in terms of health reform.”

I couldn’t agree more. While I’m fortunate enough to be covered, I’d welcome a little insurance that health reform will truly help all people in need, including Latinos.

Rudy Ruiz has been hailed as a cultural visionary. A published author and multicultural advocate, Ruiz is an acclaimed multicultural communications entrepreneur. He founded Red Brown and Blue as well as Interlex, one of the nation’s leading advocacy marketing agencies ranked by Ad Age as one of the Top US Agencies across all disciplines. Prior to that, Ruiz earned his BA in Government at Harvard College and his Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

For the People: Sickened by Health Care Debate.

If you become ill, you want to know that you’ll receive care from qualified professionals. Just as important, though, is the person next to you. Your co-worker. Your neighbor. Your fellow man. If they become ill, you should want to know that they too will receive care from qualified professionals. That’s called community. That’s called civility. That’s called human decency. Is this nation not a civil community of decent humans? Do we not at least desire to be? United, we stand, right?

Health Care. Yes, capital letters. That’s what we’re all talking about and it’s what they want us to talk about. Because we are being asked to debate the merits of “socialized medicine” against the ever-wise and just “market forces” so half of us will be able to chalk up another win for our favorite team. Instead of participating in the puppet-show argument that we’re told to believe is actual debate, though, I’m going to spell out the real story.

If we get health care reform this year, it is because the combined health care industries will make a lot of money off of the plan that is implemented. There will not be a plan that causes a net reduction in the profits of hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, or insurers, yet the only truly beneficial reforms for the average citizen would come at the expense of at least one, if not all, of those businesses.

The elected officials that are supposed to represent you do not care about you. They don’t. Unless you are on the board of a wealthy and powerful corporation, that is. But, I bet you’re not. They care about themselves. They care about their power and they care about their pursuit of wealth. We don’t have national health care because they care about those things more than they care about you or me.

As we saw with the Bush administration’s rush to war and fast-tracking of the PATRIOT Act, hasty legislation is a bad idea. The legislative process envisioned by the nation’s founders was deliberately slow, allowing for careful and extended debate. Now, following in Bush’s footsteps, President Obama is urging a quick ram-through of a health care reform bill. Despite his claims that he wants this to pass now because of all the people currently living without coverage, the reason for his urgency can only be that a proper and extended debate would expose enough flaws and logical fallacies that the bill would not maintain support.

Many people in the medical industry are not interested in your health. They are interested in money. As a doctor, it’s a lot easier to make money off of people being sick than to make money off of people being healthy. Those doctors don’t want a national health care system because they recognize the reduced revenue that would result from carefully regulated costs and a focus on preventative medical practices. There are plenty of doctors out there that are interested in your health, and really do seem to want what is best for you, regardless of how much money they make, but if the median income of a doctor were reduced at this moment to, say, $90,000 per year, I bet you’d see a lot of medical school drop-outs.

Insurance companies are not your friends. If you, for one second, believe any of the rhetoric being issued by American insurance companies about the dangers of socialized medicine, you’re being played. Insurance companies, like all other types of companies, care about only one thing: separating you from your few dollars that they may add to their own over-flowing coffers. They aren’t genuine when they tell you that competition between insurance providers creates lower costs and better care.

The power of the consumer to benefit from competition exists only when true choices are available to the consumer. For the most part, Americans are not provided that choice. We get the health insurance that our employer offers because to do otherwise is often cost-prohibitive. That isn’t going to change even if a public option is created because the insurance you get through your employer is not paid for with taxable income. Your public option would be. The end-consumer’s choices are not competitively empowering.

There is only one wealthy, industrialized nation on Earth that does not have a universal health care system. That country is, of course, the United States of America. According to a World Health Organization report from 2008, the U.S. spends 15.2 % of its Gross Domestic Product on health care. Out of 193 countries detailed in that report, only one spends a greater percentage – the Marshall Islands. Without researching, I am confident in stating that their GDP is dwarfed by that of the United States.

So, if we don’t have universal health care, but we spend more of our GDP on health care than Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, or the United Kingdom, all of which do have universal health care, why are we spending so much? Critics will likely point to government inefficiency and fraud, and claim they are plagues of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. I won’t make any claims that those problems don’t exist. But the problems of those programs are more easily fixed and pale in comparison to the problems created by bloated corporations.

According to a recent report, true health care reform in the United States as a single-payer system covering all Americans at no out-of-pocket expense to the patient would create 2.6 million new jobs. That number is equal to the number of jobs that dissolved in our country’s recession during 2008 across all industries. Not only would the single-payer system be an economic benefit to the country and its citizens, see the last page of that report to see how the cost compares to the other recent attempts that have been made to bolster our economy.

Ideally, we would have legislation introduced in Congress that would seek to cover all Americans under Medicaid. Guess what? It has happened in every Congressional session for the past six years. Representative John Conyers, Jr. originally introduced the Bill in 2003, but current debate won’t even allow mention of a single-payer plan as an option. Why not? Because we, the people, would benefit more than for-profit enterprises.

Sometimes, politicians wage wars of attrition against one another. They compromise and dilute to get something passed and claim the accomplishment, even if the end-result is a weak specter of the original intent. Other times, the point of the debate is to reframe the argument from “good option vs bad option” to “bad option vs worse option” (such as the recent cap-and-trade debate). I don’t appreciate my leaders asking me if I’d prefer to be punched in the face or punched in the gut without offering me the option of not getting punched. You can ask for single-payer coverage to be a part of the national health reform discussion, preventing politicians from playing these kinds of games.

It’s right. We have the ability. The greed of the few is preventing the good of all. We can not abide.