There are what have been called "safety net" programs, but they have become behemoths of waste, and society as a whole would be better off without nanny government.
Now is a good time to remember the wise words of Ronald Reagan: "If you want to discourage something, tax it. If you want to encourage something, subsidize it." And another along the lines of: "If it moves, tax it. If it doesn't move, subsidize it. If it moves fast, regulate it."
You have to realize that, well-meaning as you may be, your "incentives" are merely subsidies for your own personal prejudices based on your personal experience. While I happen to agree with your findings, that doesn't warrant the government subsidizing our theories, and that is why you will catch flack for this part of your musings. Only liberals believe government should underwrite their idea of do-goodism.
Until people start (gasp!) taking responsibility for themselves and their families (as long as they believe "it takes a village"), government should not be in the do-good business. Every incremental loss of personal freedom is a surrender to the socialist nanny state.
Don't know how to answer tactfully, as I think you are misunderstanding me. I agree with you about the fears of the nanny state: which is explicitly why I introduced it in terms of *economic* incentives, in order to bring market principles behind it. In Phoenix, many surrounding communities subsidize carpools or alternative transportation to work, to improve congestion and air quality. I was picking up $2.00 / day by bicylcing to work 12 miles each way at one point. Many other folks carpooled or rode motorcycles. This was not government coercion, but placing an explicit economic price on a desired activity.
As far as "personal prejudices" that is simply untrue. My wife works in the "back end" of the health care industry, as do I: we both get to see the *monetary* costs of illlnesses which are the results of lifestyle choices (smoking, sedentary lifestyle, too many snack foods). It is an objective physical fact that these elements within a lifestyle end up making people very sick over time. And sick people require large expenditures on their health.
As for me, I consider taking care of my health *mandatory*. Similar to charitable giving, I'm going to do it whether the government encourages it or not. But not everybody feels that way -- "it's too inconvenient" -- and this proposal is aimed at reaching them.
What I *am* concerned about is any number of people I see on the street who believe that having *chocolate* milk with their supersize fries and Big Mac constitutes "healthy eating." Yes, for them, it might be a step in the right direction -- (one small step for me, but everyone else thought it was an earthquake) -- but not enough. And after 20 or 30 years of that lifestyle, when they develop chronic diseases, *they* won't be troubled to pay for it, because, "why, it's an infringement on their freedom." Never mind that it is an infringement on MY freedom to tax me to shield them from the consequences of their actions.
And the "hearts and minds" approach the government uses--some poorly produced, miserably acted commercial "Now parents, it's ok to tell your kids not to smoke..." doesn't work. As humor columnist Dave Barry said, it's enough to make you want to rush out and inhale an entire carton of unfiltered Camels just for spite. So if public health is a compelling government goal, we need to find another way to do it.
NOW: A liberal (Hildebeast; Chicago and foie gras; New York and Trans-Fats) would remedy this in a way that LIMITS personal choice, and INCREASES government power, by MANDATING certain behaviours. I am *utterly* opposed to that. If the government has a compelling interest in people's health, it can do so (at the margin, and without curtailing FREEDOM !) by *paying for it*. In that way, people who otherwise would not be doing some healthy things might start doing it for the money; and some of them may find "hey, I like it" and keep the healthy habits. By analogy to letting people invest their own social security money, every penny saved now reaps compound interest by reducing the number of folks who will need massive government intervention later--intervention which the statists will be only too happy to provide.
It is also the best inoculation against Hillarycare that I can think of. If people are healthy, they won't *need* as many doctors, and the health industry won't be such a tempting target for the bureaucrats to continue muscling into.