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Three Surprising Things That Keep Healthcare in America Expensive

This week’s “Wellness Wednesday” is going to be a quick one.

I want to follow up on last week’s article because it brought up a couple of key issues that are affecting millions of people (if you haven’t read last week’s article, take a minute now to read it here). Either you or someone you know deals with these issues every day. There is such an opportunity here to transform people’s lives, especially where it comes to the cost of healthcare.

Digging Into the Numbers

I don’t get real excited about reading deep research pieces, but it’s part of staying ahead of my game, so I do quite a bit of it. In September, I came across a new series of articles published in August about the rising costs of healthcare. Once I waded through all the pie charts and percentage breakdowns, I landed on a couple of paragraphs that I just couldn’t get out of my head.

If you spend any time watching the news (and I’m personally making an effort to limit that), it sounds like the cost of healthcare is exploding because of greedy insurance companies trying to make a buck off of sick people. But the actual data paints a different picture.

It’s true that, in 2011, 49 million Americans did not have health insurance. That was a major news story and an important part of the election cycle in 2012. An effort was made to create an insurance option that these people could afford. So far, the jury is out on this. Some people have been able to get affordable insurance that hadn’t before, but some reports suggest that at least as many people have had the cost of their insurance balloon up beyond what they could afford.

Was it the exorbitant profit margins of the insurance companies? Not according to this report, which suggests that

“the health insurance sector’s average profit margin in 2012 [was] just 4.5 percent. By comparison, major drug manufacturers have an average profit margin of 16.7 percent; medical instrument and supply companies, 13.6 percent; biotechnology, 11.9 percent; and medical appliance and equipment companies, 13.7 percent.”

Three Shocking Reasons For Exploding Costs

While the article broke out several areas where costs have increased beyond the rate of inflation, these three areas shook me up:

Waste

Wasteful spending likely accounts for between one-third and one-half of all U.S. health care spending. PricewaterhouseCoopers calculates that up to $1.2 trillion, or half of all health care spending, is the result of waste. An Institute of Medicine (lOM) report estimated unnecessary health spending totaled $750 billion in 2009 alone. The biggest area of excess is defensive medicine, including redundant, inappropriate or unnecessary tests and procedures. Other factors that contribute to wasteful spending include non-adherence to medical advice and prescriptions, alcohol abuse, smoking and obesity.

Unhealthy lifestyles

The growing burden of chronic diseases adds significantly to escalating health care costs. Researchers predict a 42 percent increase in chronic disease cases by 2023, adding $4.2 trillion in treatment costs and lost economic output.18 Much of this cost is preventable, since many chronic conditions are linked to unhealthy lifestyles. For example, obesity accounts for an estimated 12 percent of the health spending growth in recent years.

Aging population

Life expectancy in the U.S. reached 77.9 years in 2007, up significantly from 62.9 years in 1940. Individuals who are age 65 or older, who spend much more on health care services than younger people, will comprise nearly one-fifth of the population by 2050.

It’s ALL A Waste!

From where I am sitting, it looks like all of these categories represent waste. Sure, unnecessary tests and procedures is a crazy waste of money. But I thought it was interesting that drinking, smoking, and obesity were categorized as “waste.”

Why?

Because any benefit you get from following your doctor’s orders will be rendered null and void by drinking, smoking, and obesity.

For Pete’s sake! Obesity alone is the root of most chronic disease. Fewer people are smoking now than were in the 1960s because we’ve gotten smart about that. We changed the way tobacco companies advertise. We’ve spent billions trying to educate fifth graders about the dangers of smoking (I’m thinking of the D.A.R.E. program here), and by and large, it’s working.

But we haven’t brought down the obesity monster yet. Think of all the diseases that are directly tied to obesity: heart disease, atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease, diabetes, arthritis, stroke, hypertension, some types of cancer, asthma, gallstones, sleep apnea, depression, and on and on. Yet somehow, people aren’t making the connection between the food they eat and the way they feel.

You CAN Make A Different Choice

That’s where that second paragraph comes in — unhealthy lifestyles. Sometimes I wish that people could experience the effects of their food choices immediately instead of hours after the fact. Maybe then, they would make the connection in their minds between the food they eat and the pain they suffer. If drinking soft drinks gave you a headache immediately, instead of hours or days later, I bet sales would drop off in a heartbeat.

While I’m on that paragraph, there’s that word again – preventable. Is your suffering preventable? Your joint pain? Your back pain? Your budget pain? Is it possible to prevent chronic disease by changing the way you eat.

Yep.

Is Aging Really The Problem?

Finally, I want to dig into that last paragraph about the aging population, especially the line about people over 65 who spend much more on health services than young people. Did you know that in Sardinia, Italy, and Ikaria, Greece, their over-65 population doesn’t spend much more on health services than their young people?

Why is that?

That was the focus of the Blue Zones Initiative by National Geographic Society and author Dan Buettner. They identified a handful of places around the world where 100-year longevity was the norm instead of the exception. After studying their diets and lifestyles, Mr. Buettner and his team identified nine core lifestyle strategies that were consistent among them all. It wasn’t that they had advanced medical care or superior technology. It had everything to do with daily lifestyle choices, like walking more than driving, eating until you’re 80% full, belonging to a community, and so on. I am privileged to be a part of that project today.

Think Differently

Part of my mission as a chiropractor and wellness coach is to get people to think differently about their health. So much of the health crisis in America could be eliminated if people just took responsibility for (or at least recognized the direct consequences of) their own habits. It’s time for a wellness revolution in this country. Take all that money that goes out of your pocket to insurance deductibles and prescriptions, and put it back in your pockets, where you need it.

I had a friend who eats right report to me that his brother-in-law was making fun of him because he wouldn’t eat junk food. The brother-in-law says he eats what he wants to eat, and when he gets sick, he goes to the doctor and gets a pill for it. It sounds like an easy way to live until you start to factor in the side effects that will accumulate over a lifetime. I pray for this guy. He’s in danger, but it doesn’t feel like he is because the pill is glossing over all his symptoms.

Wait until he gets the bill.

Worse yet, wait until the government passes his medical bill to the taxpayers, so he never has to see it. Nothing in the world is free. If you get your healthcare for free, it’s because somebody else paid for it – willingly or unwillingly. That’s not who we want to be.

Nobody makes much money if everyone starts eating celery and kale, but then no-one has to spend much on their health, either. The cheapest way to live is clean and healthy, but the choice is yours.

Take A Step Toward Better Health

We had a fantastic time at the Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner last Thursday. My friend and colleague, Dr. Allen Weiss, gave an amazing presentation, and I’m so grateful that he shared his expertise with us. And we’re just getting started. If you missed this one, watch our Facebook page to RSVP for the next one, which will be the first Thursday in November at 6:15 pm at my office on Pine Ridge Road in Naples. I hope to see you there.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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