America seems to moving inexorably towards more government involvement in our heath care system. Last week, Senator Ted Kennedy provided a graphic example of one reason why health care costs are so high—and are bound to go even higher with more government involvement.
Last Friday morning, Kennedy had surgery to clear a blocked artery in his neck. By that same afternoon, the Senator’s surgeon, Dr. Richard Cambria was holding a press conference to explain that Kennedy had a “very high-grade blockage” in the artery and that “the senator (was) eating ice cream and drinking ginger ale.”
Dr. Larry Ronan, Kennedy’s personal physician said, “his overall health is excellent” and “his diet is very, very good.”
Clearly, Dr. Ronan is either a hired enabler, or he knows nothing about nutrition. Does his description of Kennedy fit that of someone who has emergency surgery for a blocked artery, who is overweight, and who has a drinking problem? More than that, is it responsible behavior to be eating ice cream immediately after surgery for a condition at least partially caused by eating too much fat?
But why, you might ask, is that our business? Why single out Ted Kennedy? After all millions of Americans have had heart and/or arterial surgeries created by poor diets, and a sizeable percentage go right back to eating the same poor diet.
Indeed, that is precisely the point. Senator Kennedy is just a very visible example of a larger problem.
Suppose your homeowner’s insurance covered everything in your home. By everything I mean painting your home, changing light bulbs, buying new appliances if the old ones broke, etc. If this was the case, how much preventive maintenance would the average homeowner devote to their home? The answer is, of course, much less than they do right now. Why? If homeowner’s insurance covered everything, they would have no incentive to invest in preventive maintenance. They would not have to pay for the consequences of their lack of preventive maintenance.
Similarly, how much preventive maintenance would the average automobile owner devote to their car if their automobile insurance paid for any problem? If automobile insurance paid for new tires, how often would you rotate your tires? If insurance paid for a new transmission, how diligent would you be in changing the transmission fluid?
Our current health care system has created a crisis where many Americans take almost no responsibility for their health. They understand very little about the functioning of their own body, they know little about the basics of good nutrition, and they do not engage in responsible exercise habits. They are full of excuses for their lack of responsibility. And as with Kennedy’s Dr. Ronan, our health care institutions help to enable these poor choices.
I feel some discomfort as I write this post. Some are dealt a difficult hand in life, one they did not necessarily create through choices they made. We have a genetic makeup, we are born into a certain family at a certain time, and events occur that are not under our control. In other words, no matter how conscientious we are about health maintenance, there are no guarantees in life. There is no perfect program that will guarantee that you will not have a health problem. Yet, taking responsibility for your health means that you maintain a sense of possibility that your choices can make a difference.
I have no problem with an owner of a car who never changes their oil and needs a new engine at 30,000 miles. That situation is literally none of my business; no one has asked me to pay for that owner’s folly. Indeed, we have not heard of a crisis in automobile repairs; nobody is calling for more government involvement. Bearing the consequences of your behavior creates powerful incentives to engage in responsible behavior.
I have raised more questions than I have answered. As I mentioned, in spite of exemplary behavior, most of us will have health issues in our life. Yet, poor diets, lack of exercise, and morbid obesity all have serious consequences for our health. In an earlier blog post, I pointed out the role of the AMA in raising health-care costs. Now, our own behavior in raising costs cannot be ignored.