Many health care expenditures preventable by changing lifestyle


As the Supreme Court gets ready to decide on Pres. Obama’s health care reform in June, I read a stunning new report that so many of the ailments we spend health care money on today are avoidable with changes in diet and exercise.

Fortune reports that we’re closing in on spending $3 trillion a year on health care in the United States. That’s 17 cents out of every dollar in our economy.

Over 50% of that money is for things that have happened because of our lifestyles. More than 90% of Type 2 diabetes, 80% of coronary artery disease and 70% of both stroke and colon cancer are “potentially preventable,” according to a Harvard epidemiologist quoted in the Fortune article.

So changes in lifestyle can reduce what we spend on health care by more than half. Now is that realistic? No. You don’t get a massive amount of the population all at once to change habits of exercise and diet. It’s a gradual thing.

But the point is, a lot of what we have going on with health care is self-inflicted in terms of how much in medical services we use as a country.

Now, the flipside: A lot of what we have going on in modern medicine has been miraculous too. Many people’s lives are extended by science. We have longer lifespans that we’ve had in our country’s history. In 100 years, we went from the average lifespan being around 45 years of age to the upper 70s. But the costs to get there have been tremendous over the last couple of decades.

The big problem is the system of how we buy health care coverage with employers providing the policies. That only came about because of weird distortions due to wage price controls in the late 1940s. But once employers started, they got special tax breaks to offer coverage and they never stopped.

And here’s the other thing: It used to be that we paid more than half of the cost for health care services we purchased. Today, it’s a little more than 10%. So we pay all different ways, but as far as directly feeling the cost out of our pocket, we only feel a tiny portion, which distorts how we buy and what services we get.

We’ve got a lot on our plate with medical care. A lot we can fix and a lot we can change. But what we’re doing right now, regardless of how the Supreme Court rules in June, with the costs soaking up so much of our national wealth, that’s a no go for America’s future.

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