The Real Healthcare Reform is YOU

I was happily ensconced at a local dog park, frolicking with my Golden while chatting with a fellow dog owner about the joys of off-leash play, when somehow the conversation veered perilously into politics (some linkage between off-leash and government intervention perhaps?), and before I could scream “Switzerland!” and run, I was regaled with the horrors of “socialistic” healthcare reforms and how truly heinous it was for the government “to demand we pay for freeloaders who won’t take responsibility for their damn selves!”

walking-in-the-wind

Walking in the Wind…urban exercise.

Deep sigh.

I make it a policy to never ruin a perfectly good afternoon arguing very imperfect politics (I also avoid sex and religion…not the act – well, at least with sex – but the conversations…oh, you know what I mean!) so I made some benign comment about “yep, it’s a big topic” and hightailed it out of there, wondering why it’s not more obvious that we already are paying for the uninsured when they end up in county hospitals and ERs. And, frankly, I doubt if most uninsureds actually won’t take responsibility for themselves; likely it’s a matter of not being able to afford to. And while we’re at it, what’s with the “socialistic” slam? When Mutual Of Omaha Medicare, one of the biggest and most beloved government insurance programs, and Social Security – the other one – are entitlements as ingrained as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, let’s not pretend this other form of government insurance deserves that incendiary and misguided label.

Well now, look at me; I’m arguing with the guy anyway!

But as the Supreme Court ponders, politicians debate, pundits scream and yell as they are wont to do, let’s us little folk do some thinking about Healthcare Reform ourselves (oh, calm down, this won’t hurt). And I don’t mean the pros and cons of what should be covered, who should provide coverage, and how much the government should be involved. That would take far longer than I’ve got here and it’s not my point anyway. What I want to talk about is healthcare reform as it relates to how we take care of our own health.

As I’ve gotten older and, like everyone else on this earth, have had to adjust to a changing body, new issues that come with new decades, and the general reinvention of how I continue to be me while making those adjustments, I’ve noticed many in my circle, male and female alike, dropping ever so slowly out of vibrant life. Many are overweight, quite a few are plagued with chronic pain issues (arthritis, old injuries, etc.), some have developed drinking and/or drug problems (typically more pharmaceutical, at this point, than recreational), and most defer to these physical limitations to avoid the gym, a good hike, or even a walk if it involves more than a few blocks. Bad eating habits are rampant (and suggestions for better ones ignored or dismissed), the smokers have all but abandoned the idea of quitting (“I’ve lived this long as a smoker, what’s the point now?”), and the acceptance of age-related meds (blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, etc.) is unquestioned. I actually had a friend explain to me his recipe for aging: “I just tell myself: I’m getting older, nothin’ I can do about it, I am going to get sick and fall apart, so I just expect it and then it doesn’t bother me when it happens.” Now there’s an interesting twist on “positive thinking.”

Don’t get me wrong; there’s no health smugness here. I understand that some issues are unavoidable by virtue of DNA, random illness, and immune system quirks. We are human, after all, and no matter how stoic or proactive, we’re going to sick from time to time, have accidents, get older (which usually does involve more option for infirmity), and, yes, dammit, even die some day (I know, good morning to you too!). But how about we do everything that is in our control to be as fit and healthy as possible until we get to that inevitable end?

There is so much information out there about how to hedge your health bets that no one can honestly cry ignorance. And let’s not forget the value of mindset; the way we frame our view of health, our own in particular. A suggestion? Don’t accept that by virtue of age you just have to be on every med known to man. Don’t accept that you will get what everyone else is getting when “something’s going around.” Don’t buy into the notion that you can’t improve habits, get fit, lower your blood pressure, or rebuild your stamina. Much of this is in your control. I’ve watched it happen, many times. Most recently a neighbor of mine (a man in his 60s) who was teetering towards diabetes, medicated for chronic high blood pressure, and significantly overweight, took his health into his own hands and lost the weight, upped his regular exercise, changed his eating habits, and succeeded in getting himself off all meds and the list of diabetes candidates.

That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is healthcare reform!

But back to medical insurance for a moment: When I turned 50 my One Sure Insurance premium skyrocketed beyond belief because, my insurance representative explained, most people in my decade begin tapping into the pool in greater and more expensive numbers for a variety of reasons. She mentioned obesity as a national epidemic, one that’s costing insurers even more than smoking related illnesses and, more ominously, in increasing numbers as smoking statistics decrease (Obese Workers vs Smokers – Who Costs Your Healthplan More?). And beyond the big ticket items of obesity and smoking, she listed significant increases in other “lifestyle” illnesses past 50; those brought on by “bad habits” such as lack of exercise, alcoholism, unhealthful eating, and general health apathy. I shook my head and thought, WTF, at 50??! We abdicate our involvement in our own good health that early in life? And to add insult to gloomy injury, it appears it doesn’t matter how proactive, preventive, or healthy I may be, I’m stuck paying more for my insurance and healthcare because others in my age bracket – insured others, mind you – DO NOT TAKE BETTER CARE OF THEMSELVES.

That’s enough to make a person sick…to their stomach.

So while all this yelping is going on about the “selfish folk who take no responsibility and expect government to pony up for their healthcare,” I’m a little peeved at those who actually have insurance but don’t take responsibility to do everything they can to stay as healthy as possible. The costs of their health issues brought on by those aforementioned “lifestyle choices” contributes more to rising insurance and medical costs than any current reforms on the table.

How about this: let’s put the government, partisanship, and frothing ignorance aside for a moment and put insurance in its rightful place: it’s important to have for preventive care, in case of emergencies, and certainly when we need treatment or medical intervention. But for most it’s the second line of defense. The first? A persistently healthful lifestyle on a day-to-day basis. It won’t solve or prevent every problem, and surely we can’t minimize or ignore the impact of major diseases that can afflict even the most healthy, but beyond fate and DNA…just try it. A persistently healthful lifestyle on a day-to-day basis. You will see your doctor less, I guarantee, and, as a bonus, with growing numbers of the “healthier aging,” both medical and insurance costs, your and mine, will decrease, no matter what decade we’re in.

“Healthcare reform,” in our own hands and available to EVERYONE. I, for one, would be most grateful if you’d give it a try.

Photograph by Lorraine Devon Wilke 

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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14 thoughts on “The Real Healthcare Reform is YOU

  1. Lorraine I wholly agree with you on this one, but at times it can be confusing as to what is healthy with the multitude of information we are plagued with. There is so much bickering between health professionals as to what is or isn’t good for us. What is good for you today will certainly be bad for you tomorrow.
    All that aside, we are our own best health advocates if we so choose. We should know what makes us feel bad or feel better and adjust our lifestyles accordingly!

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    1. LDW

      I agree, Loren, when it comes to supplements, certain types of foods, exercise regimens, etc.; the thinking on those seems to change as frequently as the wind. But I think you can’d go wrote by simply eating basic, commonly understood good foods – vegetables, fruits, grains, etc. – and getting off your ass to simply WALK…often, and fast, and every day. Or whatever exercise moves you, literally.

      I swear if people would do just that, we’d have a healthier society in no time. It’s just not that complicated. Experts may try to make it so, but common sense has to rule the day. Beyond the above, just expend more energy than you take in (via calories), abstain from drug and alcohol overconsumption, find joy where you can, and surround yourself with positive, supportive people. There. That’s the perfect prescription. Bill’s in the mail! 🙂

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  2. Well said Lorraine! At the risk of stirring the political pot, I would submit that so-called preventive medicine is actually nothing more than lifestyle choice and is not the responsibility of doctors but of patients. Supplements, avoiding or eating certain special foods even most medications are of minor importance when compared to simple lifestyle adjustments. Don’t smoke, don’t drink to excess, maintain a healthy Body Mass Index (weight vs height) and get regular exercise. TREATING chronic disease improves quality of life and may extend lifespan (marginally) but doesn’t save the system money. It actually costs more overall than non-treatment (mainly because many of the conditions result in early death when untreated) Not needing the medication because you live in a healthy manner does save the healthcare system money and improves your quality of life as well.

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    1. LDW

      Nothing political about your perspective, Bruce, and coming from a doctor, as insightful as any comment can be. You are espousing exactly the point I’m making, that the best preventive care is the care we take of ourselves. And those choices are all within our grasp, as you point out. I’m disappointed that more people our age aren’t jumping on this bandwagon; too many have simply thrown up their hands and written it all off to “aging.” Yes, we’re all aging, but HOW we age is up to us. I’d like to see the many arguments about who should be responsible for what include an equation that includes our self-care based on wise lifestyle choices. As I said and you concur, THAT is the best hedge we can make for ourselves. Thanks for weighing in, Bruce! LDW

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  3. pamela may

    Lorraine, this is such a perfectly logical concept and I really appreciate your POV. It resonates with a number of initiatives I’ve read about yet gives a focused, practical, and informed macro solution for all to reflect and act upon! thank you.

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    1. LDW

      Thank you, Pamela, for your comments. Glad to hear there is some political thought on this; it needs to be thought about, along with the zillions of other aspects to the GIANT conundrum of medical and insurance care and costs! LDW

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  4. A very well written and timely article, Lorraine!

    It resonated with me because I’ve made similar “common sense” choices in my own life, especially about the types of foods my family and I ingest.

    My immediate family, friends and co-workers have all been warned, but I made a decision a little while ago that I was going to attempt to stop smoking on July 2nd. I’m doing that, even though I LOVE TO SMOKE, because I have to take responsibility for my own health, and as has been mentioned – it’s common sense. Duh. Will I hate it? Oh hell yes. But I have to do it. And I have to succeed this time, because I’m one of those millions of employed upper middle-class Americans who simply can’t afford health insurance (I’m self-employed, so it’s a killer premium). So if I don’t take care of me in a preventative way, who the hell will?

    The only problem that I see with the main thrust of your article is that it puts the responsibility of ones own health on ones on shoulders. People taking responsibility for themselves and their actions? That’s pretty tough, because a lot of people don’t like having any personal responsibility at all…they blame other people for their mistakes, misfortunes, their lot in life, etc. They “wish” for things instead of “doing” what it takes to achieve them. We’ve become a very lazy ass species, we embrace the old bible verse – “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” and ignore the fact that perhaps, with a little common sense regarding preventive health maintenance, we could be healthier for longer and just maybe live a bit longer before we take that long dirt nap. And your article points that out perfectly, but dang…nobody likes to swallow the cough medicine of common sense.

    Have I mixed enough metaphors today? Probably…time for a SMOKE while I still can!!! 🙂

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    1. LDW

      David:

      First of all, good luck with your smoking cessation program; brave, difficult, very necessary. I have no doubt you can do it and will thank yourself later and for the rest of your soon-to-be much longer life!

      Yes, the “responsibility on one’s shoulders” thing. It’s a tough one, particularly in today’s culture nurtured on the idea that somebody somewhere will take care of everything. I’m a Democrat so I believe in compassionate assistance when and as needed, but even that has to come with the understanding that help is temporary, personal responsibility is the element that sustains. There are plenty of people out there quite vociferously arguing for and against a healthcare mandate and not nearly enough looking in the mirror and getting very honest and proactive about what they themselves can do to stay healthy and live longer, without necessarily relying on insurance and doctors to get them through.

      Comnon sense IS the key; we all know what we should do, not we’ve just got to get to it. Like you are with your smokes. Or I am with…potato chips. 🙂

      Thanks for your thoughtful weigh-in, David (pun, as reflective of the obesity crisis, intended! 🙂

      LDW

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  5. Maureen G.

    I like your thinking. It seems like people resist looking at themselves for solutions to many of life’s problems, this issue included. I’ve got a sister who won’t stop talking about how we need to reform the system and how horrible doctors and insurance companies are, as she’s smoking and over 50 pounds overweight! Where’s the logic?

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    1. LDW

      Nope, no logic there at all, because, unfortunately,logic seems to play little into this debate. It’s harder to be disciplined and self-motivated, it’s easier to put the focus on other solutions and other people. We humans prefer the easier solutions, even to our own detriment. We can only hope that conversations such as this one remind others that they are both part of the problem and the solution; trite but true. Thanks for your comment, Maureen. LDW

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  6. Jane Graygat

    It’s refreshing to find thoughtful individuals on this subject, given how insanely most people think and talk about it! You sound like you recognize what we should spend more of our time thinking about and acting on, instead of looking elsewhere for all our answers! Thanks for that. I’m planning to forward this to a few people who could use a little bit of push to get out and start walking. I will certainly recommend this blog!

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    1. LDW

      Thanks, Jane. I appreciate that you see the point I was trying to make…and good luck inspiring your family/friends to get a little more motion in their lives! Thanks for your comment. LDW

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