Thinking Differently About Health Care

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October 23, 2008 | 32,166 views

The American health care system is on life-support. Priced at nearly $8,000 a year per American, and soon to be 20 percent of the GDP, it’s more expensive by 40-60 percent than health care systems in any other industrial country, and totals nearly half the health care budget of the entire world. Yet it leaves 48 million Americans uncovered by health insurance and produces remarkably poor results.

According to the fascinating article linked below, it might help to consider American health as a house. Health care is the -- very expensive -- roof, the final protection against illness. In some ways it’s a preventive system, but mostly it’s sickness care.

The Health Care “House” is Falling Apart

In most other countries, the roof is a simpler affair. These health care systems rely much more on prevention. Yet the people in those “houses” live longer, healthier lives. That’s because in those other countries, the foundation and the walls of the house are stronger, with fewer cracks to let in the cold.

Start with the foundation. That’s the head start toward health that children in most other rich countries receive. In part because of better pre-natal care, infant mortality in all other industrial countries is lower than in the United States, which ranks 42nd in the world.

In every country in the world except the United States, Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea, mothers, and often, fathers, are guaranteed paid time off from work to take care of newborns. In many cases, such “family leave” extends for up to a year or more.

The first wall is lifestyle.

Our tax system subsidizes producers of sugars and fats and our marketing system relentlessly advertises unhealthy foods. At the same time, Americans tend to work longer hours than people in other rich countries.

Wall number two is stress relief.

It’s no secret in the field of public health that stress is a killer. Several factors make American life particularly stressful. Stress can result from insecurity. As the American social safety net has been gutted in recent years and job protections have been reduced, life in America is far more insecure than in other rich countries.

Stress is also the result of time pressures and overwork. Breaks from a stressful workplace are seen by Europeans as yet another way to improve health.

The third wall is social connection.

It’s a given in the field of public health that social connection strengthens immune systems and improves physical well-being.

Yet America is an increasingly lonely country. More and more people, and especially older Americans, live alone, far more than in other rich countries. A recent study found that the average American has only two close friends he or she can turn to. A quarter have none at all.

The fourth wall is a safe environment.

Americans rank at the bottom in child safety, with the highest rates of accidents among children. Partly, time pressure on American parents leave them less able to supervise their children. Other studies show extremely high rates of accidents in the workplace compared to other nations.

Finally, and this is no small matter, every other industrial country guarantees its workers paid time off from work when they are sick; only the U.S. does not. Those countries know that without paid time off, workers will come to work sick, and will get others sick and stay sick longer.

To achieve better health outcomes, Americans must begin to see health as a holistic matter. Right now the American health care “house” has a foundation that is part marble, part rotting wood and part dirt. It has four walls that are a mixture of teak, balsa wood and bamboo, all of them in sorry shape. And finally, it has a gilded roof with millions of holes. If you have a few minutes I highly suggest you read documentary filmmaker John de Graaf’s entire article, linked above. It brilliantly points out what is missing in all of the debates about health care reform for the United States, and that is a holistic approach.

Whether or not to provide universal health care or health insurance to every American is not the question that needs to be answered. What we should be asking is how to give Americans more time to spend relaxing, exercising, cooking healthy meals and sleeping. It would be wise to focus on getting all Americans access to healthy foods, instead of subsidizing agribusiness that produces mostly junk food.

And we should be analyzing why the U.S. has a health care system that is 40-60 percent more expensive than the health care system in any other industrial country, yet ranks only 45th in life expectancy and 42nd in rates of infant mortality.

What do the Outrageous Costs of U.S. Health Care Get You?

If you think health care is expensive now, wait a few years. By 2016, it’s expected that health care costs will double to more than $4 trillion!

Just about everyone, from businesses to individuals, is feeling the pinch already, and it’s no wonder when you consider these outrageous facts about health care costs from the National Coalition on Health Care

• In 2007, $2.3 trillion, or $7,600 per person, was spent on health care.

• Health care spending is 4.3 times the amount spent on national defense.

• Total health care spending represented 16 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), and is expected to increase to 20 percent by 2016.

• For comparison, health care spending accounted for 10.9 percent of the GDP in Switzerland, 10.7 percent in Germany, 9.7 percent in Canada and 9.5 percent in France.

• Workers are now paying $1,400 more in premiums annually for family coverage than they did in 2000.

Perhaps you’d be able to justify this spending if you were receiving top-notch medical care. Well, the United States does have one of the best systems in the world for treating acute surgical emergencies.

But the system is an unmitigated failure at treating, and preventing, chronic illness. And conventional medicine clearly kills more people than it saves. Let me give you an idea of what the medical error and mortality rate of conventional medicine in the United States looks like:

• Some 106,000 hospitalized patients die each year from drugs that are properly prescribed and properly administered, and side effects kill as many as 198,815 people.

• The recorded error rate of ICU’s is like the post office losing more than 16,000 pieces of mail every hour of every day, or banks deducting 32,000 checks from the wrong bank account every hour, 24/7.

• The recorded medical errors and deaths equate to six jumbo jets falling out of the sky each day, 365 days a year.

• Since 2001, a recorded 490,000 people have died from properly prescribed drugs in the United States, while 2,996 people died on U.S. soil from terrorism, all in the 9/11 attacks; prescription drugs are therefore 16,400 percent more dangerous than terrorism. If deaths from over-the-counter drugs are also included, then drug consumption leaps to being 32,000 percent more dangerous than terrorism. And conventional medicine viewed as a whole is 104,700 percent deadlier than terrorism.

And what about chronic disease?

Many of the leading causes of death in the United States -- heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes -- are facilitated by physician ignorance of foundational concepts of nutritional physiology.

They are also triggered and made worse by things like stress, inactivity and exposure environmental toxins -- all factors that many working Americans, and particularly low-income Americans, find difficult to change.

Taking Control of Your Health

More government involvement doesn’t hold the answer to the health care crisis. What is needed is more personal involvement -- your personal involvement -- in the form of a commitment to your own health.

If you carefully follow some basic health principles -- simple things like exercising, eating whole foods, sleeping enough, getting sun exposure, and reducing stress in your life -- you will drastically reduce your need for conventional medical care.

You could also carefully analyze newer health insurance options such as HRAs and HSAs if you live in the United States. The basic concept here is to provide protection against medical catastrophes, but to have a high deductible to lower your costs. If you stay healthy, the premium savings would more than pay for the higher deductible -- IF you ever need it.

And that is really the bottom line.

The more you take responsibility for your own health -- in the form of nurturing your body to prevent disease -- the less you need to rely on the “disease care” that passes for health care in the United States in the first place.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References