Transcript: Secretary Mike Leavitt

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," June 6, 2005, that was edited for clarity.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: A healthy worker is cheaper to have on the payroll than a sick worker. And a growing number of companies are making employees pay for their unhealthy habits. The next time you pick up a bacon cheeseburger on the job, be careful who's watching.

My next guest is taking steps to transform our health care system. What does he think of all of this? He says it will be a way to lower costs and improve the quality of care.

Joining us now is Mike Leavitt. Mr. Mike Leavitt, of course, is the secretary of health and human services. Secretary, belated congratulations on the job.


CAVUTO: What do you think of companies moving here to sort of lock this in right now?

LEAVITT: Well, there's an economic imperative that we do it. We're competing in a marketplace, paying almost over 15 percent of the gross domestic product on health care. And we're competing in a world where some of our competitors are in the single digits.

CAVUTO: But do you think our bosses should be looking at what we're eating?

LEAVITT: Well, this is, in fact, an overall social question. And I don't know whether we ought to be looking at whether we're eating or not, but I do know, as a nation, we have to find a way to control the rising cost of health care.

CAVUTO: And one of the ways, with Weyco and some of these other companies that Steve Brown talked about, is, they are saying, you smoke at home; whether you do or not here, it doesn't matter. You are not with us.

LEAVITT: Well, companies will work through this.

CAVUTO: You don't think that's going too far?

LEAVITT: Well, there's a direct connection between the way we live and the cost of our health care. There's a direct connection between the cost of our health care and the competitiveness of our products. Companies are taking those actions. My point isn't that it's right or wrong. My point is that there's an economic imperative that we get...


CAVUTO: I think you're absolutely right, Secretary. There's clearly an economic imperative. I guess what I worry about are companies, with the best of intentions, that use this as an excuse to snoop on people.

LEAVITT: You know, there's a lot of things that are worrisome about the future. The one thing that I worry about is that, as health care costs continue to increase, more and more companies will be inclined to discontinue health insurance, particularly for lower-income employees.

CAVUTO: But isn't that the next step?

LEAVITT: That is a logical next step and one that we need to prevent. Too many of them are currently falling on Medicaid, which is health care for the low-income. And, ultimately, we won't be able to sustain that as a nation. We've got to find ways of bringing a sense of reality to health care costs.

CAVUTO: Do you think to equate eating the wrong food with smoking is the way we're going? And is the proper way to go to police food and bad food as much as we do those who smoke?

LEAVITT: There's little question that overweight and obesity leads to diabetes and various heart ailments that are chronic diseases that fundamentally cause a person to be not only unhealthy, but their health care costs to go up. There's a very direct link.

CAVUTO: All right. Secretary, thank you very much. I really can't hold my stomach in much longer, Secretary.


CAVUTO: Very good seeing you. And congratulations, again, on the appointment.

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