What are you doing to cut health care costs?

It’s no secret that folks in Snohomish County are wondering about the merits of the Health Care Reform Act. One senator said of the bill, “It ain’t pretty but we got her done.” Many believe it to be an uncertain step in the right direction. Others disagree.

For some weeks media and mail have been spewing falsehoods regarding the health care bill. It was interesting how the National Chamber of Commerce that normally lobbies Congress and hosts business conventions magically came up with $800 million to fund a kill-the-bill TV blitz.

Where do you suppose the money came from?

But that happened in the other Washington. What are we doing about health care here in Marysville? What’s our role in fixing the crisis? How can we help to make national health care affordable?

Marysville and Arlington get mixed report cards on the issue of health care. If local restaurant menus and fast food offerings are an indication we’re eating ourselves into early graves. One trendy burger joint advertises a burger featuring a half pound of beef drizzling with cheese. Factor in the amount of shelf-space supermarkets devote to additive-laden prepared foods and the early grave draws even closer.

Winco appears to offer a higher percentage of healthy food than its competitors. Shoppers find an admirable selection of fruits and veggies there along with bulk-dispensers of unadulterated components for healthy recipes. SubWay tops the list when it comes to healthy fast food.

You are what you eat. Because Health Care Reform won’t undo what a lousy diet does to one’s body, cost-control for the national health-care system depends on individual food and drink choices. The overweight critic who gripes about the cost of universal coverage while munching corn dogs is stubbornly blind to this.

You are what you do. The physical condition of the average couch-potato proves that. Broken bodies of extreme athletes prove that exceeding the limits of bone and muscle also runs up the cost of any medical program. It does no good to curse the Feds for the cost of keeping the nation healthy if citizens squander their health on unhealthy appetites for food, drink, drugs and danger.

Too much of advertising paints the good life as one of physical inactivity. Recreation becomes pushing buttons at casinos, watching television or movies, attending athletic contests, lolling at poolside, dining out or going on a cruise. From a marketing standpoint, it figures. To maximize profits, people have to be kept close to cash registers.

We live in a world of contradictions. While school leaders bemoan children’s sedentary life-style, school bus stops are spaced to keep kids from walking more than a block or two. With the demise of Physical Education classes it is mostly varsity athletes that benefit from school-based exercise. Fear of injury even caused one school district to restrict elementary kids from running on playgrounds during recess. If we’re serious about health, much of this needs to be re-thought.

Not willing to wait for Congress to fix the system, Dr. Tony Roon spearheaded Providence Hospital’s low-cost clinic in north Everett’s mall. It is a place where the uninsured or under-insured can find treatment at an affordable cost. The clinic, administered by Providence, reduces costs by depending heavily on Physicians’ Assistants and Nurse Practitioners (PAs and NPs) to give primary care. With M.D.s in short supply, medical schools are fast-tracking these almost-doctors to fill the need.

Another example of local action is Marysville’s June 5th Healthy Communities Challenge Day to be held at Allen Creek Elementary. In collaboration with Snohomish County’s Get Movin’ program, the day is a one-stop resource for healthy living. Activities include Everett Clinic family health screenings, bike safety checks, how-to seminars on gardening and more. Visitors may test the 3.8 mile Jennings walking loop that offers a mid-point coffee stop at Vinaccio.

More local action is ramping up at Wilcox Farm Community Gardens where seventy new plots will be ready to meet growing demand. Volunteers spent the early spring carving out the new plots, running a new water line and making general improvements to the site. Support for the project came from the Healthy Communities Grant due to the gardens’ blending of healthy home-grown veggies with outdoor labor.

But all that is about living. We can cut health-care costs by also cutting the cost of dying. Because 100% of us will eventually die it makes sense to re-think the cost of America’s unreasonable fear of death. As a friend put it, “I don’t fear death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Yet it will happen. I know because the obit page has my age-group dropping like flies. There is a time to live and a time to die. We sometimes get them crossed up.

Look at the numbers. It cost $50 billion last year to support patients’ last two months of life. Of that, 20% to 30% of the treatments had absolutely no impact. A day in intensive care can cost $10,000. The Wall Street Journal reports that 27.4% of all Medicare payments were spent on the last year of life. Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute reports that patients who were counseled on end-of-life issues not only cost Medicare less than half as much as others, they were more comfortable during their last days.

Personal health has to become each individual’s responsibility. Once we accept that, we’ll live better, die better, and the bill won’t be so high.

Comments may be addressed to: rgraef@verizon.net.

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