On Independence Day here in America, I am grateful for the many freedoms I enjoy, not least of all the freedom I have to take my health into my own hands. I didn’t always exercise this freedom, of course. When I was 31 years old, I went to the emergency room for the first time in my life, convinced I was having a heart attack. After the doctors ran a few tests and racked up a few thousand dollars, the staff concluded it was heartburn, and sent me on my way to go back to my normal routine.
When I was 34 years old, I went to the ER for the second time in my life, after feeling a shooting pain in my left arm that ended in a distinct squeezing feeling I felt deep in my chest. They admitted me that time and kept me overnight, running every non-invasive test possible. After two solid days, one long night, and tens of thousands of dollars billed to my insurance company, the doctors concluded that I did not have a heart attack. It was expensive peace of mind, but at least I felt comfortable going back to my regular way of living.
When I was 37 years old, I went to the ER for the third time in my life, after a constant ache in my jaw was accompanied by a sense of nausea and sweaty palms. It was a long day of tests again, and a false positive scare from a nurse who took it upon herself to tell me I probably did have a heart attack. The doctor came in after her and said, no… it wasn’t a heart attack. Not sure what it was, he said, but here’s the bill. “Come back and see us again!”
Health care costs related to Sue Kemple in the first decade of the 21st century went well into six-figures. Except that there was no health care involved at all. You might call it diagnostic care – there were tests, tests, and more tests. But no one helped me get healthier.
When I was 40 years old, all those symptoms came back at once. Instead of going to the ER, I went to Google. And that’s when I discovered that without any tests, hospital admissions, or doctors, I could make all those pains go away in a matter of days all by myself, just by making different choices about what I put on my fork. The ironic thing is that had I gone to the hospital when I was 40, odds are good that with more tests, an older and fatter patient, and pains piling up on each other, they would have found something. They would have had a diagnosis and a solution in the form of an invasive intervention or some pharmaceutical drugs. Their solution would have just added to the continuing escalating costs of medical care in our nation.
And I would have become dependent on the medical system and a drug regimen to give me the illusion of health.
My general contention is that when the government is put in charge of something that is really not a matter related to governing – such as educating our children or making recommendations for the foods we should eat – the government does it poorly. Even if I didn’t know anything about it, my first inclination would be to consider the Affordable Care Act another thing the government has probably done poorly. And now that I’ve familiarized myself with “Obamacare” (disclaimer: I’m not an expert, just a citizen), I’d say that what it does most of all is completely miss the point.
Don’t get me wrong: the medical insurance industry is in need of much reform. Injuries and accidents happen completely outside of our control every day. So do many forms of illness. I do believe there should be mechanisms and systems in place to insure that quality care for people in such situations is affordable – maybe even free – and provided with great compassion. But what I’m afraid this act has done is give people the false impression that we now have a system in place that will improve the health of Americans.
It will do no such thing.
In fact, one of the unintended consequences of making health insurance as we know it even more accessible is that people may take this as a license to continue unhealthy habits – which will only make us sicker. As a nation, we tend to rely on medical care to an unrealistic degree. We have dispensed with the notion of personal responsibility for our own health, because we have been given the false impression that doctors and drugs will keep us healthy, no matter what kinds of dietary and lifestyle choices we make.
Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are the main conditions for which Americans seek medical care. Far more often than not, these conditions are preventable – and even reversible – through proper diet and exercise.
Far more often than not, Americans either don’t know how to live a life that truly insures their health, or they don’t want to.
Not wanting to live a healthy life is everyone’s right. But the consequences for not wanting to live a healthy life shouldn’t be everyone else’s responsibility. You should not be financially responsible for the consequences of someone else’s choice to smoke his way into lung cancer, drink her way into cirrhosis of the liver, or eat his way into diabetes or heart disease. It seems that the personal mandate requiring the purchase of medical insurance or facing taxation if one chooses to opt out will require that even those who disagree with the current paradigm must participate in encouraging others to maintain an unhealthy dependence on the medical and pharmaceutical industries.
There is a place for medical procedures, prescription drugs, and diagnostic testing. But all of these things are employed far too often, with no evidence that they improve health outcomes, while people continue to engage in behavior that makes us think such things are always necessary.
And consider this… if we were able to drastically reduce or eliminate the need to treat the lifestyle diseases that are disproportionately responsible for the soaring costs of medical care in this country, can you imagine how many more researchers, practitioners, and resources we’d be able to direct toward treating and curing all those conditions and diseases that just happen to people… the ones we DON’T bring on ourselves?
There are so many heated arguments about the Affordable Care Act, and many of the points made in the debates are warranted. But the fact that medical care is so expensive and directed largely toward conditions we can control long before medical care is necessary is the big elephant in the room. Until we face this fact, no amount of medical insurance will do anything to improve our health.
And a final thought as we celebrate Independence Day: Sure… everyone is free to make choices that harm their own well-being. But that’s a twisted notion of freedom. Many of us are actually addicted to poor eating habits. Anyone who acknowledges a personal addiction will tell you there is no freedom in that, only bondage.
There is much greater freedom to be found in choosing to be truly healthy in mind, body, and spirit – and in avoiding the need for medical care in the first place. On Independence Day, that is what I wish for all my readers. And to my American readers in particular… enjoy a safe, happy, and healthy Fourth of July!
No blog article this Friday – today is this week’s offering. But the new article will be out next Friday, July 13.
Freedom to choose health is important – so is the freedom to choose the kinds of products and services you need to build your wellness practice. That’s what we’re working on this summer at the Wellness Wordsmith, so keep your eyes open for new options!