On September 11, 2008, the U.S. budget deficit reached an all-time high of $9,682,116,996,293.84. Servicing this debt requires around $500 billion annually, give or take a few billion. And like the addict who needs another fix, we continue to spend. This year, experts estimate that an additional $410 billion will be added to the big fat American deficit. Moreover, because of the rocky economy, less revenue from taxes may cause these numbers to rise.
The United States is currently spending 16 percent of its gross domestic product on healthcare. This figure will probably expand in tandem with the expanding waistlines of overweight and obese Americans, whose numbers now total two-thirds of adults and one-third of our offspring. Surplus weight results in health problems that translate into additional medical costs. Consequently, the direct and indirect economic costs of the rising numbers on the bathroom scale are sobering. Individuals, insurers, employers, government programs (including Medicaid and Medicare) and county, state and federal governments pay for direct costs. And as most individuals and employers know too well, insurance premiums are rising. The average annual premium for a family of four is over $12,000.
Indirect costs are harder to measure yet just as real. They reflect the loss of income resulting from absenteeism, sick days, restricted activity and premature death.
I wrote about this issue in an article titled "Political Promises, Healthcare And Our Big Fat American Diet" that appeared September 3, 2008 on basilandspice.com and included a summary of the solutions to the healthcare dilemma proposed by the two presidential candidates. Go here for the full article.
McCain proposes a $5,000 tax credit to help uninsured families afford coverage. He also proposes taxing employer-subsidized medical insurance. McCain believes that improved management of the healthcare system will trim costs.
In contrast, Obama’s priority is obtaining coverage for the 45 million uninsured Americans at an estimated annual cost of $65 billion. Like McCain, Obama assures voters that better management of the healthcare system and cost controls can lower the annual insurance premiums to an affordable level of $2,500 for a family of four.
Both of these candidates agree that the healthcare system needs attention. Although they disagree on the means, both want citizens to have access to affordable healthcare. Without being drawn into the merits of either candidate’s proposals, we can focus on three fixes that can help us become more fiscally and physically fit (FIT):
F: Fix the medical model. Instead of reimbursing physicians and hospitals $250,000 for a single heart surgery, fund wellness and prevention programs for 1,000 people at $250 each. That’s the perspective of Dr. Nick Yphantides, author of My Big Fat Greek Diet and the poster child for what an individual can achieve when lifestyle changes occur. Once a big man (he weighed nearly 500 pounds) with an even bigger heart, Dr. Yphantides now weighs 237 pounds. He uses his personal example with his patients and members of the community to promote healthy lifestyles even though it would be more lucrative to focus on the treatment of medical problems arising from lifestyle choices.
I: Intervene in the lives of individuals to cut through denial. Alabama is experimenting with a stick rather than a carrot. State employees will be fined $25 if they fail to make lifestyle changes that address health and weight issues. Although most of us prefer a carrot to a stick, some of us may need the sting of a stick to wake us up.
T: Tackle the issue of fitness as a community. We need to change the environmental cues that encourage us to overeat and underexercise into ones that encourage us to eat more healthfully and exercise regularly.
Communities can adopt successful group weight-loss programs such as the Nevada County Meltdown, where over 1,000 people lost nearly four tons in eight weeks. Or communities can introduce Dr. David Sabgir’s model, the Walk with a Doc program in Lewis Center, Ohio. Each Saturday at 8:30 a.m., Dr. Sabgir and other physicians and medical-care providers walk with about 175 to 200 patients, family and friends.
How I cast my ballot once inside the voting booth this November is a private matter. Publicly, however, I have no problem sharing my ideas on how we can enhance the health and well-being of friends, family and neighbors. As a by-product, we can reduce the cost of healthcare and help lower the national debt.
My own medical cost-containment program is to lead a healthful lifestyle to render expensive medical care and prescription drugs unnecessary. And my tongue-in-cheek goal is to die a natural death without the help of a doctor.