Let Them Eat Cake

Marie Antoinette lives. She is alive and well in Vermont. The Vermont House has voted to place a sales tax on dietary supplements and vitamins. The March 25, 2010 vote came in at 92 to 49.

Ironically, at the same time, in Washington politicians were promising ‘preventive care’. Seems to be a failure to communicate?

In recent years, the medical community has finally, in a better-late-than-never move, recommended increased dosages of vitamin D. For decades anyone could track the higher rates of MS, breast cancer, colon cancer, osteoporosis, and other diseases in areas of the northern US where there is less exposure to sunlight. There are some fascinating theories that explain the disease-resistance of the Inuit people who inhabit the far northern regions of the globe. One theory states that what they lack in sun exposure they make up with ample doses of vitamin D in their diet which consists mainly of fatty fish. The value of sun exposure and the resultant vitamin D have been well documented. Now, will vitamin D be taxed in Vermont? Should sitting in the sun also be taxed?

Vitamin D is one of the least expensive supplements. It is widely available without a prescription. High doses of vitamin D are available by prescription. Will they be taxed? On the other hand CoQ 10 is a bit more costly. It is also known to have important health benefits. Paying a tax on it could prove to be a hardship for many. CoQ 10 has been one of the leading heart meds used in Japan since 1974. It is sometimes an effective treatment for AMD, Alzheimer’s, angina, some cancers, heart failure, low sperm count, Parkinson’s, AIDS, tinnitus, psychiatric disorders, and many other illnesses. CoQ 10 is not a magic bullet, but it is an important supplement. It should be available tax-free for those who chose to take it.

What about fish oil capsules, and for vegans flaxseed oil capsules? Are they a supplement, or are they a food? Will they be taxed? If flaxseed oil is taxed, should there be a tax on olive oil. Will the criteria be, tax it if it is in a capsule – but leave it untaxed if it is floating free in a bottle? Cod liver oil is available in capsule form and is also available floating free in bottle form. Here we have a conundrum.

What about red wine supplements? Will taxing Resveratrol encourage people to drink Cabernet Sauvignon instead of taking a pill? That could be fun, but will each household then be required to have a designated driver? 

And what about green tea tablets? If in pill form, tax it. If in tiny bags, the tea would be tax-free. Seems a bit arbitrary.

Here’s another one: turmeric. If purchased from the spice isle of the grocery store, it would be tax-free. If purchased from the supplement isle, it would be taxed.

Pre-natal vitamins, especially the B vitamins, are credited with decreasing the risk of neural tube birth defects. Should pre-natal vitamins be taxed?

For a long time the bagel tax has been controversial. Buy one bagel and it is taxed. Buy a dozen bagels and they are tax-free. Is it permissible to buy a dozen — eat one — and then return eleven to avoid the tax?

In other areas, some are calling for a tax on sugary drinks. That could gum up an already overly complicated tax code. Few people can decipher the tax regs on food now. Some food is taxed, or not taxed, depending on the temperature of the food. Tax it if it is hot – no tax if it is cold. This might have made sense in Montpelier, but it victimizes poor families who lack cooking facilities. Not every one has a working stove. If a shopper purchases hot food in a grocery store, he pays the hot-food tax. If, when he gets home, the food has cooled should the tax be refunded? Seems that that would be the fair thing to do.

In the larger scheme of things, all of this might seem trivial.  There is increasing homelessness, hunger, war, and a continuing health care crisis, but some things are a matter of principle.  A public policy that places a tax on vitamins cannot be morally justified — especially in a state where there is already a crisis in health care.  In the southern part of Vermont many have no access to a doctor or dentist. In Bennington, Vermont there is a health care clinic. It is staffed by benevolent volunteers. The problem is that it is open only three hours per week and it does not offer dental or vision care. Dental care would go a long way in assuring health. It should be at the top of the list for preventive care. There is not much recognition of that fact in Washington or in Montpelier.

The federal tax code is not any better than most state codes.  Some needed improvements are obvious.  Simplify the code. Eliminate most deductions.  Make it fair.  A progressive tax that starts at 1 % on incomes above $88,000 would be an improvement.  The tax could progressively increase to 100% on incomes above $1,000,000.   Most important: eliminate the cap on the Social Security tax and include all income, earned and unearned.  Make it a progressive tax that is fair to low wage workers.

The worse thing about a tax on vitamins might not be the adverse health effect that will result. The worse thing is that this is a regressive tax – hurting those who can least afford it. Instead of taxing vitamins, vitamins should be given free to all who could benefit from them. This could be paid for by placing a progressive tax on all incomes — earned and unearned — above a certain amount. Maybe $88,000 would be a good place to start the discussion. Seems that that would be the neighborly thing to do. Pay for your neighbor’s vitamins if your income is above $88,000.

Is Marie Antoinette in Vermont? Maybe not, but I can’t wait for Stephen Colbert to do a report on the Vermont tax code — or is Stephen the consultant who has written the tax code?

Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy journalist living in Vermont. Read other articles by Rosemarie.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. lichen said on March 30th, 2010 at 1:16pm #

    That is terrible that they are going to tax vitamins and supplements. You are right that it is regressive, and furthermore a farce, especially since the chance to provide real high quality care free to all was just abandoned. Now, with health care costs to individuals still rising, why not make it even more expensive to try take care of things by oneself? Not only make it impossible to see the dentist without breaking your bank, but tax dental floss, toothbrushes, and toothpaste? All off these little tax tweaks are a waste of time until they are ready to tax wealth, and provide free housing, college education, healthcare, guaranteed healthy food, clean water to all.

  2. Melissa said on March 30th, 2010 at 3:00pm #

    Rosemarie, I enjoyed your article.

    You are near an important distinction about taxes . . . something about incentives vs. dis-incentives. I think there is something punitive about the legislation fever to ‘regulate’.

    I still demand safe care, when I need help, but these rollercoasters of hype about health care deliberately marginalize the foundation of health. Further, how to help others access foundations of health? The “Great Debate” (TM) always slides around those little bits. You, know, that elephant in the room of real air, water and FOOD pollution . . . you know, those GMOs, those, chemicals that are now called artificial flavors . . . you know all of this.

    Just when we should be crowing about getting off of an engineered hampster wheel regarding the Medical Industrial Complex, we are somehow on our knees begging for another pill to take . . . shhhhhh. Go back to sleep.

    How can we guarantee safe air, water and food for all? With a prescription for highbloodpressure? Or will access to Abilify (TM) launch that solution into our midst?

    I continue to have more questions about the Great Debate (TM) than I have answers for. I do remember, though, that I first started hearing the “sell” for it at a seminar in 2006/7, where the theme was “Socio-economic Disparities” and the keynote speaker was a representative (I think CEO) for Blue Cross Blue Shield. She said it was a win-win scenario from a business standpoint; “of course I think everyone should have a card from BCBS in their wallet”. She said it, or some other collection of words with that meaning.

    I’m not even going to get into censored treatments by Medical GateKeepers.


  3. Deadbeat said on March 30th, 2010 at 5:32pm #

    This is a great article by rosemarie and Melissa is asking the deeper question about “health care”. It is what I raised when I criticized the stunts being performed by K. Zeeze and comrade who allowed themselves to get arrested during the Congressional Hearings. Universal single payer health care will not emerge until there is a movement that challenges the very existence of Capitalism.

    Melissa questions are in the right direction. Those questions are integrative. How can you have health care without housing, clean food, a clean environment, education, and REDUCED stress. All of those aspects TOGETHER what provides good health.

    One of the reasons I was AGAINST the demand for single payer in the current way “activist” are demanding it is that if of emerges piecemeal, like liberals tend to do, then those people who have access to the other health factors will not feel the need to struggle for an integrative approach. They have what they need — see ya!

    Again this is the time to really dig deeper and ask more PROFOUND questions about the Capitalist system and consider what the world would be like WITHOUT it.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on March 31st, 2010 at 12:38am #

    The last thing that the medical industrial wing of the parasite class wishes to see is preventative medicine.You see,there’s no money in it for them. In fact it represents a threat to their income stream and to their prime raison d’etre-unending profit maximisation. Where Communists or socialist scum see ill-health,morbidity and premature death as ills, every capitalist knows that these are actually goods. ‘Treating’ these illnesses with useless medications,themselves causing numerous side-effects, or pointless procedures, is immensely profitable. The capitalist model of medicine as exemplified in the US, where profits are immense as more and more of the GNP is sucked into the vortex, and health outcomes, particularly for the poor and middle, are despicable, puts profit before human welfare and life. This is the true essence of market capitalism,the hatred of other people evidenced by allowing them to suffer or driving them into bankrupted poverty, all in order to further enrich already obscenely rich psychopaths. Meanwhile in the hell of Communist Cuba, which the Western elites are dedicated to destroying and turning into another Haiti, everyone is treated for free, preventative medicine is paramount and Cuban doctors are sent around the poor world to save lives and reduce suffering amongst people whose lives and welfare are of no concern to the capitalist ghouls because they have no money to steal.

  5. rosemarie jackowski said on March 31st, 2010 at 12:02pm #

    Mulga…Yes. Cuba has offered to send doctors to the US – especially after Hurricane Katrina. The US government tried to keep Cuba’s offer of aid a secret but the truth was leaked out.

  6. rosemarie jackowski said on March 31st, 2010 at 12:15pm #

    Deadbeat, lichen and Melissa thanks for the comments. I agree about the medical/pharma complex. But sometimes medical intervention is necessary. Anyone (me) who has walked around with ruptured appendix will testify to that. Sometimes medical care can save a life.

    Deadbeat…I agree with what you say about Single Payer emerging piecemeal. That is exactly what has just happened because the law does NOT provide for Single Payer. Also, Single Payer does not prevent one from working for a clean environment, better housing, etc.

    Deadbeat, I am surprised that there are not more comments about the tax code I suggest in the article. I had you in mind when I wrote that.

  7. Deadbeat said on March 31st, 2010 at 4:10pm #

    Deadbeat, I am surprised that there are not more comments about the tax code I suggest in the article. I had you in mind when I wrote that.

    Thanks for thinking about me :-). But it was Melissa’s comments that really got my attention. I like the way she was bringing an integrative perspective into the discussion of health care. Mulga response is really addressing the tax question because the taxes are about protecting profits of big phama.