When it comes to health care, most of us tend to focus on what happens to us when we’re sick. Is the doctor’s visit covered? What about hospitalization? Does my prescription drug benefit cover the new pills my doctor is prescribing?
These are important questions, it’s true – but good health means far more than what happens to us when we’re sick and need a doctor’s care. Good health is really about prevention. Nevertheless, too often it seems as if the medical and pharmaceutical industries, abetted by the insurance companies, rule the health care landscape, causing us patients to consume more expensive, traditional health care than we need while failing to help us adopt the kind of personal habits and lifestyle changes that might really cause us to live longer, healthier lives.
In researching this topic, we read about a study from some years ago, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which showed that about half of all deaths in the United States in 2000 were due to preventable behaviors and exposures. This same study estimates that 400,000 people die each year in the United States due to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Since this study appeared more than a decade ago, we suspect that the situation has only gotten worse – a suspicion that was corroborated as we scrutinized this set of data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The website offers a table of statistics that paint a disturbing picture of just how bad the lifestyle choices of the average American actually are!
Let’s consider a few examples:
- Exercise: Only half of all adults say they exercise three times per week as recommended. More than half of all adults 75 years old and older are physically inactive, in spite of the high correlation between physical activity and overall physical and cognitive health.
- Nutrition: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that 90 percent of Americans continue to eat too much salt, and that reducing salt intake by 1,200 milligrams per day could cut U.S. health care costs by $20 billion. Unfortunately, the average daily calorie intake in the American marketplace rose by 600 calories per person between 1970 and 2008, and the number of fast food restaurants more than doubled during that same period. Sugar intake has also skyrocketed, leading to a host of sugar-related healthcare problems including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, even cancer.
- Obesity: As a result of poor diet and increasing inactivity, obesity has become a well-publicized national epidemic. One British study predicted that, by 2030, fully half of all U.S. adults will be clinically obese. In 1970 about 15 percent of American adults could be classified as obese, but by 2008 that figure had more than doubled, and continues to climb. The National Academies of Science peg the cost of obesity-related health problems in the U.S. at more than $190 billion.
Some groups have tried using a reward system to get people to improve their health habits. One such program, described in this article that appeared last month on the website of Kaiser Health News, cited an initiative for Medicaid patients that provided, for example, a $25 Target gift card as an incentive for a women to get a mammogram. Do these reward-based programs work? “Overall, research on the effectiveness of financial incentives for the Medicaid population has been mixed,” says the Kaiser analysis. Researchers said some incentives “can induce people to keep an appointment or attend a class but are less likely to yield long-term behavior changes, such as weight loss.” Our take-away from this idea is simple: you as a consumer need to take charge of your own health care, for your own sake and for the sake of those you love. No gift card or other reward is going to motivate you to change, and the traditional medical establishment likely won’t be of much help.
Our philosophy at AgingOptions is explained by Rajiv Nagaich. “Health planning is more than simply having an insurance policy that will allow you to access medical care when you are ill,” says Rajiv. “Our view is that you should have an insurance policy that will allow you to take better care of yourself – one that allows you to self-refer to a nutritionist, for example, or other preventive care specialist. We think true insurance should provide access to a personal trainer, or at the very least provide free gym membership along the lines of the Silver Sneakers program.” As important as it will be to have access to acute care, says Rajiv, true preventive care could be more important to most of us in the long run.
“We spend more time trying to patch up bodies that are broken due to preventable illness,” says Rajiv, “but precious little time making sure the body does not break in the first place!” He adds, “While we at AgingOptions can’t change the current reality of American medical care, we can advise our clients and friends to demand more from the health care system. It’s up to you and me to shift the focus of health care away from curing sickness toward preventing it. That’s the key to a longer, healthier life.”
Are you going to hear words like this from your traditional doctor? Odds are the answer is no – which is why we encourage you to join Rajiv Nagaich at an AgingOptions LifePlanning seminar soon. Rajiv will show you how medical, financial, legal, housing and family plans all have to work together as you plan for your retirement future. There are some things that the medical industry would rather you did not know, just as there are “dark corners” in many industries: in real estate, where some realtors provide poor advice to those looking for a retirement home; in finance, where financial planners often seek to keep fees and commissions secret; and in the legal profession, where attorneys can too frequently behave unscrupulously.
The bottom line is simple: you need an advocate and a guide. Come to a free LifePlanning Seminar and see this fresh new approach to retirement planning for yourself. For a complete list of currently scheduled seminars, click here for details and online registration or give us a call so we can help you take charge of all aspects of your retirement. Age on!