Friday, August 14, 2009
Health care and us
Watching the recent debate over health-care reform in this country has been something akin to rubbernecking at a grisly car wreck: it's disturbing, but I can't seem to turn away. So there I was yesterday watching a TV report that featured the usual angry mob at a town hall meeting hurling insults and outlandish rumors at one hapless congressman or congresswoman or another.
And it struck me: Many of these people who were angrily expressing fear over losing their beloved health care, whatever it may be at the moment, were part of the problem. Many of them were either overweight or obese, mostly preventable conditions that can lead to a host of physical problems that further feed the health-care juggernaut. It just seemed so tragically ironic.
Dr. Andrew Weil, the noted alternative-medicine guru, wrote in the Huffington Post on Sunday that our system is "not a health care system at all; it's a disease management system." Americans, he wrote, spent "an astonishing $2.3 trillion" on medicine in 2007.
Dr. Dean Ornish, known for his work in using lifestyle approaches to treat coronary artery disease, also weighed in on the Huffington Post, writing that 95 cents of every dollar spent on medical care "were spent to treat disease after it had already occurred." He cited heart disease, in particular, as an expensive burden on the system that could largely be prevented.
"Many people tend to think of breakthroughs in medicine as a new drug, laser, or high-tech surgical procedure," Ornish wrote. "They often have a hard time believing that the simple choices that we make in our lifestyle — what we eat, how we respond to stress, whether or not we smoke cigarettes, how much exercise we get, and the quality of our relationships and social support — can be as powerful as drugs and surgery, but they often are. Often, even better."
Not too long ago I overheard a conversation in which a woman was telling her friend that she had been diagnosed with mild hypertension, and was planning to take medication for it. "Exercise and dieting are too much work," she said. "I'd rather just take a pill."
In my town of Richmond, with a population of just over 7,000, the only commercial strip contains three pharmacies — a Rite Aid, Walgreens and CVS — all within a half-mile of one another.
The status quo is clearly working for some.