Jul 17, 2009

How to Cut Health Care Spending by 50%

The majority of America's health care dollars are spent on people over 50 -- and most of the medical conditions that suck it up are avoidable. For example, the majority of diabetes cases, 100% of osteoporosis, much of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, colon cancer, alcohol-related illnesses, and depression miseries, are preventable. And, of course, this is only the top of a very long list of expensive diseases that older Americans inflict on themselves. Or put even more bluntly, the fundamental reason health care costs are over the moon is that as a nation we actively conspire to make ourselves sick and then do little about it except bitch about the huge costs we incur to keep our self-damaged little selves alive.

So here is a simple suggestion: Instead of worrying about which insurance company, employer or public agency is going to regulate health care and pay for it going forward, how about making behavior modification to encourage healthy living the number one priority of our national health care plan? Or put another way, to save tens of billions of dollars in health care expenditures, Americans over 40 need to live their lives in a very different way than most do now. At a minimum, a healthy lifestyle would include lots of exercise, good diet, early medical testing, as well as quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake. Failing that, whether we adopt Obama's plan, a single payer system, or copy Slovenia's approach, the whole effort will amount to little more than rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.

Too bad America still lacks the leadership and vision to get at the root causes of our largely self-inflicted health care crisis (as after 50 years of foot dragging we have finally done with our increasingly successful efforts to discourage smoking). Surely a national anti-obesity program full of meaningful carrots and sticks designed to change behavior would do more to both help Americans live better and pay less taxes than anything currently before Congress.

But although there is little hope that national policy will fundamentally change for the better anytime soon, as individuals we can and should act now. By dedicating 60-90 minutes a day to exercise, eating sensibly, not smoking, getting needed medical tests, and keeping our intake of alcohol and other recreational drugs to a moderate level, we can, with a little genetic luck, cut our retirement age health care costs to a fraction of what they would otherwise be. And in the process, we can enjoy far healthier, more active, and happier lives.

In my next entries I'll provide a few thoughts on how to develop a personal program designed to help you live a longer, more fulfilling, and far less costly life. This will focus first on how to combine the four big exercise goals -- to increase your aerobic health, maintain a healthy weight, stay strong and robust, and fight depression. Please stay tuned.