There really are two secrets to fixing healthcare in this country and no one is talking about them. First of all, drug companies discovered years ago that there’s no money in curing diseases. The real money is in “managing” diseases. Instead of trying to impose price controls on the drug companies, the real cure is to get them to quit using disease management of Americans as a long-term investment and incentivize the curing of disease.
And number two? The biggest healthcare boost this country has ever seen is going to come from the reduction in smoking. If you’ve ever watched a loved one die of cancer from smoking and watched the medical bills pile up, you know just what a horrible cost smoking is. We’ve brought down smoking through a combination of making it socially unacceptible, education, and using the “stick” of high taxes and outlawing smoking in most public places (in states like Minnesota and New York).
So now we have to do the same thing with obesity. Health care costs are skyrocketing not because the insurance companies need to make a profit and not because of lawsuits (they represent less than 3% of the total cost of healthcare.) Obesity, just like smoking, is linked to hundreds of diseases and health risks that “sap” the US medical system.
We need to use good old American marketing to make obesity so unattractive that people are willing to do anything to get back to a healthy level. We need to find ways to incentivize healthy behaviors. Lower insurance rates for healthy behavior like regular exercise, eating at restaurants that specialize in small portions of healthy food, joining exercise clubs or dance clubs.
If you’ve ever watched “The Biggest Loser,” you know that weight loss and weight management is just a simple equation of eating less and exercising more. It’s not complicated, you don’t need special diets or drugs. You just need to follow a simple formula. Of course, the show also emphasizes another fact of life. People don’t change because they see the light…they change because they feel the heat.
Insurance companies need to take a more active role in incentivizing healthy behavior and penalizing unhealthy behaviors. My car insurance is lower because I have a car with all the safety equipment and I wear my seatbelts. Why should health insurance be any different? Americans have always voted with their pocketbooks. If insurance companies started penalizing obesity and rewarding healthy behaviors, people would get the hint.
Schools also have a strong role to play. Every school in the country should have mandatory exercise programs that emphasize individual activities. Team sports are great for turning students into cooperative workers but most of us stop playing team sports when we leave school. Youngsters need to learn how to exercise on their own. They need to learn how to eat healthy; how to cook healthy.
What happened when gas prices broke $100? Americans changed their behaviors. They bought fuel efficient cars, they drove less, they shopped over the Internet, they began tele-commuting.
There is no “home run” cure for healthcare costs. But a combination of incentives and “sticks” will provide the cure that government insurance plans and taxing benefits won’t. Let’s come up with a “cash for clunkers” program to get Americans to eat less, eat healthier, exercise more and discover that a heathy lifestyle will give them way more energy than a big mug of coffee every hour.Share