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It's not just about the groceries

Some years ago, I designed a bumper sticker with a picture of AFLAC's white-feathered foul mascot and the following text: "The Second Amendment-It's Not Just about Duck Hunting".

Too bad the NRA wasn't interested in my idea-apparently unwilling to be associated with any of Thomas Jefferson's "tree of liberty" concepts. But the phrase structure has some transfer value: consider, for example, the current malaise (excuse the semi-pun noun choice) about government health care plans and the unpublicized program of one of the nation's largest supermarket chains to provide health insurance for its employees.

What I refer to is popularly called the Safeway Plan. It's partially based on the politically incorrect notion of individuals being held, at least somewhat fiscally responsible, for the personal-health consequences of the behavioral choices they embrace (like smoking, drinking, snorting cocaine, etc.).

Because the conventional wisdom is biased in a far more collectivist direction-the community rating system, whereby everyone pays the same health insurance costs irrespective of how prudently (or not) he/she conducts his/her own affairs (pun intended)-Safeway is now better recognized for its niche at the retail end of the farm-to-consumer food chain than it is for its remarkable foray into rewarding personal responsibility in an era when political correctness calls for just the opposite. That's why I say, Safeway isn't just about groceries.

Historically, the supposedly unique Safeway Plan-insurance premiums vary according to risk assessment-is actually more the norm than the typical community rating.

From the venerable Lloyds of London to domestic fire insurance to auto insurance, statistically-based risk assessment has always been the usual practice. The concept of community rating is a newer, left-leaning, ideologically driven concept. Contrast it to Safeway's statistically driven principle.

It's based on two insights, according to Safeway CEO Steven Burd in a 2009 Wall Street Journal interview.

"The first is that 70 percent of all health care costs are the direct result of behavior. The second insight, which is well understood by the providers of health care, is that 74 percent of all costs are confined to four chronic conditions (cardio-vascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity).

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