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…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 

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