Since I write today's column from the New Mexico-Texas state line, it seems appropriate to write something related to this neck of the woods. Actually the issue soon to be discussed is universal but the focus falls on Travis County, Texas.
The county government in this south Texas county (Austin) has proposed to pay for bariatric surgery - gastric bypass - for as many as 400 county employees.
To qualify, the employee must be morbidly obese which is a far cry from being a tad bit chubby. The county thinks they will save money in the long run because of the massive health care expenses related to morbid obesity. And who knows, they might be right.
The surgeries run around $25,000 each and the county says they'll pay for about 15 or so surgeries each year. Please pardon the pathetic pun but the county says they can cut some fat out of the county health care budget with the surgeries.
But other counties which have tried similar programs in the past, say the Travis County officials, are far too low on their expense estimates. The surgeries can and sometimes do lead to other problems and that adds even more costs to the health care budget.
Since an estimated 60 percent of all Americans are overweight, this story should generate some interest. Now not all of those 60 percent fall into the morbid obese category. So the numbers are hard to nail down.
But this got me to thinking. Why doesn't the county government pay for plastic surgery for their ugly employees? I'm not sure how you would determine the level of ugliness that would qualify an employee for the free surgery but it's worth a shot. Countless counties and other levels of government already pay for drug and/or alcohol rehab. Their argument for those expenses is the same as the one for the overweight crowd - it will save money in the long run.
But to my way of thinking there is one major flaw in the Texas proposal. Before a person can qualify for the weight reduction surgery, first they have to prove that all other avenues of weight loss have failed. And therein lies the problem.
Let's just say - for sake of argument - that virtual starvation is one way to reduce weight. Let's say a person is mandated to live on 1,200 calories per day for a year to see if they can in fact lose weight. I strongly suspect that few county employees would qualify if forced to restrict their food intake to such an extreme.
But none of this matters. Regardless of the other pressing issues of the day, the weighty issue of obesity is all the rage in Texas.
Which got me to thinking. Ever seen a morbidly obese cowboy?