EDITOR'S NOTE: The following was written by Dr. Patrick Havey of The Health & Wellness Institute. It is his unique take on what health care really means -- and why our system is so messed up.
Health care has been a very heavily debated subject for many years.
The subject in Washington has been how to help those who have not been able to get insurance coverage that enables them doctor visits, medicines, surgeries or other treatments that may be needed.
In a country where our health care technologies lead the world, many people make the conclusion that it is almost criminal not to allow everyone who needs care (or even those who don't) the opportunity to get whatever medical care they need.
The issue is not quite so simple, although the solution is.
First, in order to better understand the solution we have to agree on the problem.
The problem is the high cost of insurance. This most everyone can agree on. Insurance premiums have to be very expensive in order to cover a large percentage of doctors visits, medicines and other treatments; or the not-so-expensive premiums that cover less percentage of any medical bills, leaving you the patient more of the bill to pay out of your pocket. So far so good?
So, on one side we have the insurance companies that charge high premiums - let's just make that blanket statement, although the cost varies based on age, fitness, and overall health (like being a smoker or not). The premiums have become practically too expensive for companies or individuals who purchase their own, especially those who have families.
And on the other side are the care providers: doctors, nurses, hospitals. We're going to put drug companies into this category because they are providing care with the drugs they provide. (On a side note, if you look at the number of drug "reps" per physician, you will see estimates of 1 drug representative per 8 doctors.
This is the side of health care that must be addressed. But let's not be so quick to point fingers... yet.
Those on the side of providing care may be prescribing too many drugs, performing too many surgeries, and recommending too many diagnostic tests.
When you have access to a plethora of high-tech machines that can see the most detailed pictures of any organ or tissue, you will tend to use it... even if it isn't completely necessary. By necessary, it is meant that the treatment won't change based on the result of the diagnostic test.
Secondly, the number of drug prescriptions that are being given out today have gone exponentially relative to a decade ago. With an estimated 100,000 drug reps pursuing 850,000 physicians to "push" their brand of drug on the doctor, it isn't hard to understand why so many prescriptions go out the door.
Just look at what Walgreen's, CVS, Rite Aid, and even Wal-Mart, and just about every major supermarket in the country has done with the Pharmacy departments: increased their size and staff to handle the increase of drug sales.
Walgreen's transition in the past 15 years has been amazing - they have become the biggest retail pharmacy outlet in the U.S. based on sales.
This is a market that has been created by drug companies and doctors, yet is also perpetuated by you the patient. Going to the doctor for every scratch, sniffle, bump, bruise or fever does not help keep the cost of premiums down, nor does it slow down the revenue that continues to flow into drug retailers and therefore drug makers.
There are some estimates that more than 90% of drug prescriptions are not absolutely necessary. Antibiotics would not be one of those, although an argument could be made that they are overprescribed.
There is one specifically designated group of people that are provided medical treatment that make up the largest percentage of the pie of medical costs. And those are the ones who are provided care for the last few months of their life.
This is the group who have the best insurance coverage, yet are most likely not going to live more than a year due to their condition, illness, or disease. Yet their insurance provides hospitals and doctors the opportunity to use every single drug, surgery, or any treatment possible to, not return the patient to a somewhat decent or "normal" quality of life, but what only amounts to prolonging their final days.
It is a morbid thought. Everyone would like to die in peace and comfort, but with an abundance of insurance, it's like giving the hospitals and doctors a blank check.
So what about the question of how to insure the millions of people who either don't, won't, or can't get coverage for medical care?
This may be a question that has a simple answer, but not an easy one to carry out. The real question is how do we get care to those who can't afford either the care or the insurance for the care.
Here's where there exists a conundrum. There are people who need treatments or medicines for conditions that they were born with, developed, or happened upon - conditions that are considered non-preventable, and yes some may have been from accidents (although auto insurance covers a big percentage of this category).
But on the other hand, there are those who overuse medical care (as described), no matter whether initiated by the doctor or the patient, who have conditions that are either minor and take only simple intervention to fix (a common cold, for example), or and this is the big one - those conditions that are the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, which means they are or were preventable.
In other words, if all of us collectively chose to eat a healthy diet that consists of the minimum recommended number of fruits and vegetables each day - the foods that provide the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals we need - then that would be a major step in the direction of prevention.
If we stopped the consumption of soft drinks - the number one contributor to the overweight and obesity epidemic - in favor of water, this would be another major step in the direction of prevention.
Third, if we cut out the consumption of fast foods - the typical kind you think of when you hear the term: hamburgers, fries, pizzas, burritos - in favor of healthier foods like fish, lean meats, beans, or even salads, that would be the next major step in the direction of better health and prevetion. This is what health CARE is all about -- caring for your health.
Most doctors give you something for a symptom. That's not health care. That's not even sick care. It's symptom care. We are responsible for caring for our own health. We have to care.
For those who have conditions like diabetes where medicines are needed, there should be no denying them the care that they need. All of those people, whether rich or poor, who have conditions that are not and were not preventable, that can be fixed, treated, or managed, should have access to the care they need.
However, this is a very small percentage of the total health care costs that would be spent if we all chose to live a healthier lifestyle than we do now.
So your health care literally does await you. It awaits your decision.
Eating a diet that consists of lots of a variety of fruits and vegetables, plenty of water, and healthy sources of lean protein like beans, fish, almonds, yogurt, and the like instead of fast foods, soft drinks, and fatty foods... it's the choice you must make.
The one other item that must be eliminated for better health and prevention of sickness and disease: all tobacco products. This should go without saying, but again this is a cause of health care problems that could be prevented.
The bottom line is that a country whose citizens are eating healthier and making healthier choices and ultimately living a healthier lifestyle, will see a large percentage of today's illnesses, conditions, and diseases prevented or at the very least be delayed until the much later years of life.
This would reduce the overall health care costs significantly, and would make access for those who absolutely need care, much easier and certainly more affordable.
It may be a hard pill to swallow, but our health is our personal responsibility.
The health of a nation does not improve because of government makes a law that allows every single citizen access to medical care. This only increases the market that drug retailers (and hence, drug makers) will be able to sell to.
Sure there will be some who really need the care. But care starts with each of us individually. We must care for our own health. We must choose to eat right, exercise, and avoid those things that cause health problems in the first place.
The health care reform in Washington means nothing if don't reform how we choose to live. When we each choose a healthy lifestyle, we'll be the reform that we need.
NOTE: You'll notice that "health care" was avoided in this article in favor of "medical care" or just "care." That's because true health care is based on what you do for yourself, not what a doctor or hospital does for you. This is no knock to the doctors and practitioners who are looking out for an individual's best interest and teaching them how to best care for their own health, but they are the minority.
Dr. Patrick Havey
The Health & Wellness Institute