Spending on medicine rises as our health care declines
This year Americans will spend about $1.4 trillion on health care; that’s more than $5,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. In constant dollars that’s three times what we were spending in 1960. Medicare spending is at $220 billion, four times what it was per beneficiary in 1965 when LBJ started the program. During the last 35 years, our life expectancy has risen from 64 to 77 years (80 for women and 74 for men), so it seems that we are getting our money’s worth. Or are we?
Western medicine with its brilliant technology and Aristotelian thinking revolves mostly around managing crisis and is very expensive. The two big killers are heart disease and cancer, followed by much lesser numbers for stroke, pulmonary disease, accidents, lung infections and diabetes. Most of the increases in life expectancy and quality of life have come from preventive medicine – which is cheap.
We are much more aware today of cancer-causing environmental factors (carcinogens) than we were 35 years ago. People know the dangers of tobacco, asbestos, sunburns, workplace carcinogens, radiation, etc. When I was a young boy, I can remember going into shoe stores where fluoroscopes checked your fit. Twenty seconds of that was equal to a thousand X-rays today.
Cardiovascular disease is most likely the result of bacteria or a virus taking advantage of a weak vascular system and precipitating plaque. A weak cardiovascular system can be the result of poor genes, but is also caused by lack of exercise, smoking, stimulants, poor diet and being overweight – all preventable. Sixty percent of Americans are overweight, and 25 percent are obese. Obesity has been strongly implicated in heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Think of the cost difference between going on a diet (preventive) and spending years suffering from a life-threatening disease (crisis).
So if great strides in cheap preventive medicine has brought us increased longevity, why is the cost of health care going through the roof? There are many causes, but I can think of several related and very important ones. Drug companies are pushing unnecessary and expensive pills on the public at an unprecedented rate. They are bypassing physicians and going directly to the public with mass media advertising. Listen very carefully to the side effects crammed in at the end of the ads. Think twice when you hear “may cause weiner fingers.” I read an article recently that claimed that half of all prescription drugs were either unnecessary, over-prescribed or the side effects were worse than the benefit. It is very difficult to prove such a claim, but I believe it. We’ve become a nation of pill-heads.
Hospital costs have also skyrocketed in the last 20 years. A growing percentage of the elderly will unnecessarily incur the majority of their lifetime health care costs from hospitals during the last few months of their lives. This leaves little resources for long-term home nursing care. The reason for this corruption and waste is the slow socialization of the American health care system. People still don’t understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch. I believe we are getting shortchanged for our $1.4 trillion.
Now here is “Dr. Mike’s” 200-word guide to better health in order of importance. Post it on your refrigerator.
1. Be skinny – 5 percent less than the height/weight chart.
2. Exercise moderately – a two-mile walk every other day or equivalent (swimming, walking-golf, gardening, etc). For most people, extreme exercise is for looks, not health.
3. Avoid all known carcinogens – particularly tobacco.
4. Eat only small amounts of refined sugar and highly refined grains, such as white flour.
5. Totally avoid any product with “hydrogenated” oil.
6. Be very cautious of any long-term prescription drug. They have good short- and medium-term benefits but long-term side effects will kill you.
7. Use common sense to avoid pathogens and take one high-quality multiple vitamin a day.
8. Drink no more than two alcoholic beverages per day – none if you’re alcoholic.
9. Buckle up, give up stunt flying, avoid lawyers and psychologists, and hope that God gave you good genes. Try to enjoy each day no matter what you are doing.
Fad diets, herbs, homeopathy, aroma-therapy, acupuncture, chiropractors, meditation, Rolfing, megavitamins, “organic foods”, exotic teas, fasting, liver “cleansing,” wheat enemas and a hundred other health fads are all part of the billion-dollar “alternative” health industry that caters to the 30 percent of us who are hypochondriacs. Without it, the economy of Nevada City would collapse. The competition is so thick there that the “healers” are now healing the “healers.”
The human body is very adaptable to almost all quality natural foods. When you really think about it, the above nine recommendations are darn hard to follow.
Michael Schwalm, a resident of Penn Valley, writes a monthly column.
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