If there’s one thing at the center of every political conversation right now, it’s healthcare. What’s wrong with it, what needs to be done to fix it, who has it, who needs it, who’s going to pay for it? There is nothing more central to every single American’s well-being than the critical importance of access to competent, affordable, timely healthcare for all. It’s literally a life or death situation.
One element of the healthcare debate that has caught my personal interest is the discussion of whether preventive care is worth the cost. Many healthcare reform advocates sound the preventive (or “wellness”) care gong: that prevention, often in the form of education and incentive programs, rather than treatment of diseases, is the way to go to ultimately reign in escalating healthcare costs for an aging and the increasingly unhealthy population. On the other side of that fence is the argument that financially, the answer is no.
To borrow from a recent Associated Press article: Mrs. Jones is a hypothetical 55-year-old obese woman at risk for diabetes. It costs $900 a year to hire a personal coach to help her lose weight and overhaul her lifestyle to prevent it. Let’s say that coaching works for Mrs. Jones and she embarks upon a healthy new life free of diabetes, never incurring the need to pay for treatment. But for every person like Mrs. Jones, there are six more for whom coaching is ineffective, and they develop diabetes anyway, or never would have developed it in the first place. Their prevention programs cost a total of $5400, likely more than Mrs. Jones’ bills for diabetes treatment would have amounted to.
The numbers show that it’s cheaper to treat the disease – including preventable ones like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes – than it is to give patients the information, tools and support they need to prevent it. And while prevention leads to longer, healthier, happier lives for the individuals involved – no doubt a common goal for most of us – it’s likely that our government will have to take a hard look at what it takes to do the right thing, versus doing the financially responsible thing. Their ultimate decision may be friendlier to our budgets, but with nearly 70 percent of health costs and deaths attributable to smoking, obesity and preventable health problems, we may not be around long enough to enjoy the extra cash.
So what can we do? We can accept personal responsibility for our choices and their impact on our health. The government and even our doctors can’t bail us out here; if we choose to eat fat, chemical and preservative-laden foods and lead sedentary lives, we can’t hold anyone accountable but ourselves. It’s your body; you CAN control how you treat it, and save yourself a boatload in healthcare costs down the road – not to mention live long enough to enjoy your grandchildren and your retirement years. You don’t have to hire a personal coach, or make sweeping, intimidating changes all at once – just change one thing.
Just for today, choose to enjoy a glass of water instead of that mid-day Mountain Dew. Park a few blocks away from the office instead of in the garage, or take the steps instead of the elevator. Share a relaxing post-dinner walk and conversation with your significant other or your kids instead of vegging in front of the tube. Tomorrow, choose to make TWO new, healthier choices. Before you know it, YOU are the captain of your body’s destiny, and it’s headed in a direction that looks pretty dang healthy.
Your friend in fitness,
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