Friday, May 25, 2012

Deeper Lifestyle Choices Underlie American Health Crisis

Anyone who has spent any time looking for private health insurance plans knows that you are rewarded for good health. This is not just true in the insurance world, however. The high cost of coverage is driven to a large extent by the high cost of health care. The new emphasis on preventive care, better diet, and healthier lifestyle choices will filter across both models. Lower the cost of health care, and insurance costs will naturally follow suit. Americans, however, need to learn to think "outside the box" when it comes to getting healthy.

It's Not Just Smoking and Over-Eating
The facts on obesity and smoking, and their relation to health costs are fairly clear. In 2011, Americans who smoke paid $1300 more in annual health care costs. Overweight Americans paid $1750 to $5500 more. Those prices, plus insurance premiums that rose 8-9 percent for the year caused many people in need of medical care to be shut out of the system. With almost 50 million Americans uninsured, and 60 percent of personal bankruptcies linked to medical debt, this is an obviously broken system.

Stopping smoking and losing weight are both excellent options, but the real culprit behind many of the major health concerns in this nation derives from a larger sense of what it means to be "well." The September/October 2011 edition of the American Journal of Health Promotion published a Canadian study comparing the health care costs of people who do and do not meditate.

Over a period of five years, the people who meditated saw a cumulative reduction in fees paid to physicians of 28 percent. These conclusions were in line with the findings of an earlier, similar study which tracked reduced expenses of 5-13 percent over a five-year period.

An Affluent Lifestyle is Also a Stressful Lifestyle
Interestingly, high stress levels and affluence seem to go hand in hand in the United States. The highest spending 10 percent of the overall population are actually responsible for 60 to 70 percent of the total annual medical expenditures, suggesting that keeping money once you have it is as stressful or more so than having none and trying to acquire it.

The same was true, however, of retired Americans. Of Medicare recipients, the top 5 percent in terms of annual spending racked up 43 percent of the total Medicare costs. Across the entire population of senior citizens, the top 25 percent who spend the most generate 85 percent of the total annual medical expenses.

Researchers are in agreement that stress reduction is an integral part of lowering health care costs in the U.S. and point out that many people who smoke and are overweight indulge in these habits as coping mechanisms. The entire equation of exorbitant health care costs existing side by side with poor health across all age groups in this country points to lifestyle changes as an integral part of stopping the upward cost spiral.