Thoughts about Healthcare Costs

One of the most difficult and complicated aspects of representing clients who have been injured is working with my client’s health insurance carriers.  Most clients have insurance through their employment, a private policy, Medicare, or Medicaid as their primary health insurance provider.  Usually if a client’s health insurance provider pays for services related to an accident, they will have the right to be reimbursed from the settlement or jury award in the case.

Like everyone else, I have noticed a definite trend over the last 20 years or so of our health insurance becoming more complicated and less affordable.  Many of us can remember when the cost of health insurance was a reasonable deduction from our paycheck and it usually covered most of the costs if we needed medical care.  Now it seems that health insurance is unaffordable for the average family and it often only covers “catastrophic” issues, with excessive portions of the bill having to be paid out of pocket before the insurance ever kicks in.

I’ve also noticed that there is lots of blame being directed at various groups for this problem.  Politicians routinely blame the other party. Many of us blame the for-profit pharmaceutical industry, or the greed of the insurance industries and medical providers.  Some even blame (gasp) … lawyers.  Certainly these groups all share in the blame.  We’ve all heard about the massive profits some drug companies are earning from the medications people need in order to live.  I recently read an article about drug maker Mylan’s flagrant profiteering from EpiPens in the months before the generic brand hit the market.

I also can’t help but roll my eyes when I hear politicians talking about healthcare reform as if they genuinely care, when so many of those same politicians have a pecuniary interest in keeping us unhealthy.  When I hear a politician talk about healthcare reform, I immediately want to know if that same politician is receiving money or support from big pharmaceutical companies, or the tobacco industry, or the junk food industry.  Did they help pass legislation that qualified tomato paste on our children’s pizza as a serving of “vegetables” for school lunch purposes?  Did they help the soda or junk food industry to get Coke or Twinkies qualified as foods that can be purchased with food stamps?  I cannot take a politician seriously on the issue of healthcare if they are simultaneously being funded by big donors who want us to be unhealthy so that they can profit.

As usual, I think the answer to our rising healthcare costs in this country is in the hands of we the people.  We all need to take greater personal responsibility and become informed and active.  If we are waiting for politicians to fix the problem, or for big corporations to become ethical in the way they do business, then nothing satisfactory will ever happen.

The real reason healthcare is so expensive for everyone, is because so many of us live unhealthy lifestyles.  The ten most common health problems in the U.S. in 2013, according to the Mayo Clinic, were:

Heart Disease

Cancer

Stroke

Respiratory Disease

Injuries

Diabetes

Alzheimer’s Disease

Influenza and Pneumonia

Kidney Disease

Septicemia (blood poisoning)

Almost all of these health problems are fully preventable by simply adopting healthy lifestyle habits.  If we would eat a moderately healthy diet and exercise a few hours per week, several of these “problems” would drop right off the top 10 list, and our average life expectancies and quality of life would sky rocket.  Think of how affordable healthcare would be if medical providers could shift their focus from fighting preventable problems like heart disease and diabetes, to helping us simply maintain good health.  It could happen!  There would be no healthcare crisis in this country if we all led even moderately healthy lifestyles.

I think the answer to the problem is this.   We should:

  • Educate citizens from an early age about the benefits of eating well and exercising. Children are so impressionable, and it is very easy to “set them on the right path” early in life.  Within the family, we should teach and encourage our children to eat well and get outside.  I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to letting my children look at screens and not urging them to go ride their bikes or play tag.  I’m also guilty of grabbing fast food or heating up processed food for them when I’m in a hurry.  I can do better!  We all can!

As for our schools – there is absolutely no excuse for physical education being cut back or cut out of our children’s curriculums.  If anything, it should be increased.  I would be fully in favor of extending my children’s school day an extra hour every day, if I knew that time was going to be utilized for organized physical activity.  For so many children, that extra hour would otherwise be wasted on some sedentary activity, most likely involving a screen of some sort.

And the food that our schools offer should be healthy, as well as appetizing.  Much thought should go into the type and quality of foods our kids eat at school.  These issues seem like common sense, yet they aren’t happening.  That only changes when we, the voters, make ourselves heard and let our representatives know what we feel is important!

  • We should encourage and reward healthy habits instead of punishing and stigmatizing bad lifestyle habits. I’ve said this so many times to family and friends.  It’s kind of a soap box issue for me.  When everyone pays high insurance premiums to support and care for an unhealthy population, we are all essentially being punished.  Any good psychologist will tell you that positive reinforcement (rewards) is far better at changing behaviors than negative repercussions (punishment).  We should find ways to reward healthy lifestyles!  Maybe tax breaks for those who maintain good health, or for those who keep and use a gym membership?  How about a break for folks who give up smoking or reduce their fat intake, or bring their blood pressure or cholesterol within normal limits?  This isn’t a novel concept.  People respond to encouragement and become motivated by their own success.
  • We should encourage our representatives to think outside the box and find better solutions, and hold them accountable when they pass legislation that threatens our health. Check up on your congressman or senator.  Are they talking about healthcare reform, while at the same time taking huge amounts of money from the tobacco industry or big pharmaceutical companies?  Is that logical?  There are well-meaning people with great ideas who would love to represent us at the State and National levels.  They’re not always the person with (D) or (R) written next to their name.  Become active!  Find out if a candidate has new or innovative ideas!  Find out if they’re being bankrolled by someone who doesn’t necessarily have your good health as a priority.  We can make change!

As always, I love discussion and I would be happy to hear back from any reader with their thoughts or ideas about this subject.

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