As the financial burden of health care continues to rise in this country, universal coverage consumes Washington’s health policy conversation. However, discussions on the measures that promote personal responsibility and prevent diseases from their onset are rarely held. If Congress is so determined to make health care affordable, the focus needs a shift to avoid these expenses in the first place. After all, 75 percent of health care costs are prescribed to preventable diseases and problems such as obesity and diabetes, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But wait, if eating right, exercising, and regular screenings contribute to long-term health and cost savings, then why are these practices largely avoided by the American masses? Correct eating habits, for instance, have not changed for nearly 20 years, as 75 percent of Americans still don’t get enough fruits and vegetables in their diets. Although constantly bombarded with the notion that we need to improve the way we eat, many people still lack the resources and knowledge to know what a healthy diet actually consists of or even how to achieve it.
Equally problematic, physical activity has hardly improved since 1990. However, with obesity rates doubling in the past ten years, daily physical activity has become more important than ever. Further, over half of the CDC’s recommendations for preventing diseases advise Americans to participate in clinical screenings. Many of these tests can indicate disease possibilities up to ten years prior to the illness actually plaguing the individual, but several don’t take advantage of the information.
Failing to practice healthy lifestyles has led to an increase in chronic diseases and health care costs. Although Type 2 diabetes is almost completely preventable, the amount of cases doubled to 20.8 million over the past 15 years, costing $174 billion in 2007 alone.
Under a universal coverage model, the focus is incorrectly on process and how health care delivery groups are paid. How about first focusing on preventive measures before the problems form a critical mass, sparing hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars? If we truly care about health outcomes, then let’s start at the beginning of what potentially ails the patient, not until she’s about to lose her leg to diabetes!
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