Commentary: Health care is a personal affair

Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 12:58am

“Health Care Can’t Wait!” “Health Care: We Can’t Wait!” Those were the slogans at a June 25 rally on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. — the rally that served as a symbol of desire for change in the United States health care system.

After examining some statistics in the health care reform report, The Costs of Inaction, the demonstration comes as no surprise. It brought out that the United States spent approximately $2.2 trillion on health care in 2007, or $7,421 per person.

Nearly half of all personal bankruptcies occur because of high medical expenses. How much does the typical elderly couple need to save to pay for health costs not covered by Medicaid? A whopping $300,000!

Considering these facts, it is no wonder that eight in 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the total cost of health care. What accounted for the $2.2 trillion that the U.S. spent on health care?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the medical care costs of people with chronic diseases account for more than 75 percent of the nation’s $2 trillion medical care costs. What are some of these chronic diseases? Heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and chronic respiratory ailments. The Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ) issued a report supporting this finding. It showed that $448 billion is spent on treating cardiovascular disease, while $34.8 billion is spent towards congestive heart failure. And another $219.2 billion was the total cost of treating cancer in 2007.

In addition to these ailments, smoking accounts for $193 billion of the annual health care costs. The costs related to the care of diabetes amounts to $174 billion. Though the figures in this report may be staggering, there is a silver lining to this situation. These ailments are preventable. In fact, medical studies have consistently shown that smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and physical inactivity cause the highest number of preventable deaths in the U.S. each year.

Since this is the case, the high costs of health care are preventable. But, while we are waiting for government officials to enact measures that could potentially reform the health care system, we can change the way we care for our own health. The question is: Are we willing to do it?

One can’t help but wonder what kind of dent we can put into this figure if we put forth more effort in eating the right foods, curbing smoking habits, and controlling our stress levels. How about setting aside that extra 30 minutes or so, exercising or doing something of a physical nature? That difference remains to be seen. However, we will never know if we do not make the necessary sacrifices to care for own health.

Yes, the health care system has many flaws. The costs of receiving adequate medical care are skyrocketing. Insurance companies are putting up more red tape as to who they will insure. Some doctors have become notorious for the mechanical manner in which they treat their patients. We can’t forget about the prescription companies that have recalled numerous medications because of harmful side effects.

Time will tell if Congress will enact reforms that could make adequate healthcare accessible to more people. Yet, while we are dealing with a system that is spinning out of control, we can focus on controlling how much we eat, how often we exercise, and avoiding the harmful substances that we put into our bodies. We can’t afford to leave our personal health care to chance.

We may think that the government owes us a better health care system. Yet, do we not owe it to ourselves to take the best possible care of our health as possible? If we change the way we care for our health, the reform that we are looking for may be at our fingertips.

Tyrone Harding, 38401