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Alabama "Fat Tax" Causes Furious Debate

Boy, were there some serious fireworks in the Dolan household over this one!

Very seldom do Daria and I VEHEMENTLY disagree on an issue...much less about something that involves things we are both passionate about -- food and good health. But we had a hot debate about this one.

Here's the issue: The state of Alabama is giving its state employees, all 37,527 of them, one year to get fit. If they don't, they start paying $25 a month for health insurance that they get currently get free.Lots of states, like Arkansas, Missouri and Ohio, reward healthy behavior, but this would make Alabama the first to punish overweight workers.

This isn't the first time Alabama has gone the "get healthy or else" route. The state already charges state workers who smoke $25 a month for health insurance that nonsmokers get for free.

So, what's "healthy" according to the state of Alabama? Anyone with a BMI (body mass index) less than 35. Employees will also have to submit baseline readings for their cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose-three other factors considered critical indicators of "health."

A BMI of 35 translates to weighing 195 lbs. if you're 5' 3", or 235 lbs. if you are 5' 9". You can see a BMI for every height here. Medically speaking, anyone with a BMI over 30 is obese, so it's not like they've set an unreasonable standard.

I agree with Alabama's position. Health costs are spiraling out of control, especially in the area of obesity. Thanks to all that wonderful southern fried food, Alabama ranks 2nd in national obesity rankings.

The state pays for its employees' health care from tax dollars. Why should a taxpayer have to shoulder the burden for unhealthy state employees who drive up health care costs because they don't take care of themselves?

It's true...some people are naturally on the heavy side and may not be able to cope with the "healthy" weight formula being exacted by Alabama. I understand.

And so does the state of Alabama. The program will allow employees to see a doctor for free, be screened for free, and have the chance to enroll in wellness programs, Weight Watchers, etc. And as long as they show progress in a follow-up screening they won't be charged.

OK...so no penalty as long as you are trying to get healthier and you have a one year grace period to get your butt in shape...or get out your wallet.

Bottom line: To me the plusses far outweigh the minuses. This program encourages a healthier population, provides more prevention through free health screenings (the state is planning to spend an extra $1.6 million next year on screenings and wellness programs), lowers healthcare costs and could save taxpayers some money.

What's not to like...he said innocently. Then his lovely wife pounced!

And she wasn't the only one who disagreed with me. Daria and I brought this issue up at breakfast today with friends and whoa did I open a hornet's nest.

Here's a G-rated version of their comments:

"Welcome to Alabama--the Nanny state!"

"Smoking first...now weight....what's next -- a penalty for not brushing your teeth twice a day?

"Ken, if YOU move to Alabama, bring money!" Ouch.

Daria feels strongly that this is a clear invasion of privacy, and yet one more example of government acting like Big Brother, right up there with New York City banning trans fats.

What about you?

Personal finance experts Ken and Daria can show you how to cut your health care costs -no scale or needles required! Discover ways to save money on everything from health care to credit cards to insurance at Dolans.com.

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