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A modest proposal: To solve health spending crisis, tax cats

Lots of Americans buy the argument that we should ration health care according to lifestyle. So do many employers who are trying to charge their obese employees more for health insurance.  But if we are going to penalizing the health care sinners amongst us, shouldn’t we target all of those who raise our collective health care bill through poor lifestyle choices? This means you, cat owners.

The costs of a cat-loving America ought to be looked at in the same vein as recent calls to tax fat people. According to a Forbes magazine poll, one in three Americans believe that obese people should pay more in taxes than those who maintain a healthy weight. The same sentiments prevail among doctors in the UK

Overweight people cost the system a ton. People seem to think it's fair to ask them to pay more if they choose to munch chips while reclining on the Lazyboy watching Paula Deen on TV. Let's apply the same logic to all lifestyle choices. Cats are costing each one of us a lot of money to treat the allergies, asthma, skin problems and hospitalizations that they cause.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are over 86 million owned cats in the USA.  Nearly a third of you own these furry disease vectors. More than half of you cat owners have the gall to own more than one! 

At a recent meeting on immune diseases in Chicago, doctors and scientists who are studying allergies made it clear that cats are a menace. I learned that 17 percent of Americans, or 60 million of us, have allergies to cats.  So that means the odds are high that either you are allergic or someone you have over to your house could be.

Once a cat is in a home it is nearly impossible to get the cat allergens out of the bedding, carpets and furniture. The cost to all of us of treating cat-induced asthma, rhinitis, skin reactions and allergies is big. While there are no specific numbers for paying for the shots and drugs to treat the health problems due to cats, the overall medical cost for treating all allergies in the USA exceeds $7 billion.  And that does not include time lost from work or days out of school due to allergies.

One drug that is now frequently prescribed for kids and adults with chronic asthma due to exposure to cats, omalizumab, costs anywhere from $6,000 to $24,000 a year depending on dose. One in 2,000 of those with cat allergies require a trip to the hospital in any given year due to an acute adverse reaction to shots or drugs!

If we apply the "fat tax" logic, the obvious ethical question is why the heck are we cat-free citizens paying for the health problems associated with tolerating cat ownership? If you choose to own a cat or refuse to get rid of one even after being told to do so by your doctor, then why should I pay for this gross irresponsibility? 

So bring on the fat tax -- but tax all those who choose to make themselves, their kids and visitors sick by lifestyle choices, whether it's eating too much junk food or housing felines. And hey, employers, don’t hire cat owners, or at least make them go to classes where they can learn about the true cost that kittens impose on us all.  

While we are at it, let's impose a fine on those who fail to wear a hat while at the beach, risking melanomas, and a skiing tax for those nutty enough to speed downhill knowing that the orthopedic clinic awaits at the bottom.

Of course, none of this applies to dogs or dog owners such as me. Those who own them should receive a tax break. Pet ownership has a lot of benefits for your health, particularly if the pet is a dog. But cats are a very different matter. Those who insist that personal responsibility ought to drive what everyone pays for health insurance had better let cat owners know what is best for them.

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