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The Solution to Health Care That Nobody is Talking About

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Subsidizing preventative medicine would be more cost effective than what politicians are proposing.

2017 has been historic. The inauguration of business mogul and political outsider, President Donald J. Trump, has shaken the foundations of the Washington, D.C. political structure. The Republican-led Congress has been working to implement their agenda, consisting of major legislation like tax and health insurance reform. The most recent major legislation discussions have pertained to the “repeal and replacement” of the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. Health insurance has been debated as if it’s access is the primary factor determining health outcomes and secure lifestyles for the average American family.

The general concept of insurance is the utilization of a third-party company, which “helps to mitigate upfront costs.” The problem with insurance is largely evident in this case, where a “woman and her insurer, the non-profit Blue Shield of California, were billed $677.42 for five basic blood tests, Lazarus’s June 10 column indicates. The hospital, Torrance Memorial Medical Center, would have charged the woman $80 had she paid cash without insurance.” Health insurance has value as it relates to the coverage of major illnesses and prescription drugs.

Insurance has its pros and cons, but there is perhaps a better alternative. One concept often overlooked is that of preventative medicine – the practice of disease prevention, health promotion, and public health policymaking, as well as government promotion of healthy, natural lifestyles. According to the 2016 United States Health and Human Services (HHS) website, the federal government directed $931 million to preventative medicine, with $73 million directed to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for Heart Disease and Stroke prevention programs and $72 million to the CDC for Diabetes Prevention. Total federal funds to the estimated budget for the Department of Health and Human Services in 2017 was roughly $1 trillion, of which preventative medicine accounts for 0.09 of one percent. The majority of the U.S. HHS budget is allocated to health care spending. Universal access to healthcare and a healthy American population are possible given analysis to the actual origins of our healthcare crisis.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has remarked, “Health care must be recognized as a right, not a privilege. Every man, woman, and child in our country should be able to access the health care they need regardless of their income. The only long-term solution to America’s health care crisis is a single-payer national health care program.” Bernie Sanders and most Americans believe in universal access to health care, however proclaiming health care as a human right is debatable. Health insurance companies are utilized to ease the cost of healthcare through a business model relying on the enrollment of mostly healthy individuals, who subsidize the costs of insuring unhealthy individuals. Insurers seek to make a profit by maximizing the number of healthy enrollees and minimizing the number of unhealthy enrollees. This business model is becoming increasingly difficult as a larger proportion of the American public has been mandated to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and as the American population grows sicker.

Contrary to Senator Sanders argument is the conservative argument for free-market health care. A free-market health care system would maximize competition through maximizing options thus reducing prices for consumers. Republicans in Congress prefer a market-based approach to health insurance reform so that individuals pay for their own choice of insurance. Senator Sanders and Democrats in Congress, on the other hand, advocate a single-payer option utilizing the federal government’s vast resources and power to “guarantee health care as a fundamental right for every American. As part of that guarantee, Americans should be able to access public coverage through a public option, and those over 55 should be able to opt in to Medicare.” Both major party platforms address health insurance reform, while focusing little attention on preventative medicine and the promotion of a healthier lifestyle.

As of 2015, U.S. health care spending reached $3.2 trillion, roughly 17.8 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. In 2015 alone, U.S. health care spending grew 5.8 percent, yet medical prices rose only 2 percent and have been decreasing since 2010. Health care spending would increase over time due solely to a growing population, however, the rate of growth is what is alarming. Health care spending has increased for a variety of reasons, not limited to merely a growing population that is both aging and getting sicker.

Politicians often downplay the role of diet and lifestyle as a means of achieving a healthier, less health care consuming country. Political silence on preventative medicine will ultimately become highly problematic. The American diet has been changing rapidly as the United States becomes wealthier.

Since 1909, poultry consumption has increased from roughly 15 grams per capita per day to around 90 grams per capita per day. Diets consisting of high meat and animal product consumption were typically more expensive, yet total meat consumption in the United States has been roughly 100 grams per capita per day higher than the developed world average. Diets high in meat consumption “could be as harmful to health as smoking,” according to a controversial study into the impact of protein consumption on longevity. A major takeaway from this study is the potential link between high meat consumption with cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

In addition to animal product, Americans should limit or avoid most processed foods. According to Harvard Medical School, “healthy diets emphasize whole foods-those that still contain what nature gave them.” Refined grain, added sugar, sodium, and trans fats are all examples of components of readily available yet unhealthy processed foods. “You want something that has the minimum of ingredients, and to be able to recognize those ingredients.” In response to further medical observation, “Kaiser Permanente, the largest managed care organization in the U.S., published a nutritional update for their physicians suggesting that healthy eating may be best achieved with a whole, plant-based diet that discourages animal foods as well as all refined and processed foods.”

Diet is the single largest component of a healthy lifestyle; however, the role of exercise is not to be ignored. Former First Lady Michelle Obama focused her efforts on addressing the shortcomings on federal promotion of a healthy diet and exercise. Her initiative eventually removed the spotlight from a healthy diet to exercise promotion. The former First Lady was well-intentioned, but a person’s excerise habits are still less important than a person’ dietary choices when it comes to losing weight. Federal promotion of a nutritious diet is crucial to a healthy society.

Given the vast swath of resources at the federal government’s disposal, it seems that it would be most cost-effective to fund health promotion campaigns and subsidize industries associated with a nutritious diet. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans at a Glance, created by both the Department of Health and Human Services and United States Department of Agriculture, addresses health promotion and emphasizes the necessity of dairy products and animal protein. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “since our bodies make plenty of cholesterol for our needs, we do not need to add any in our diet. Cholesterol is found in all foods that come from animals: red meat, poultry, fish, chicken, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products.”

A diet containing excess cholesterol will cause “too much cholesterol in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries causing a process called atherosclerosis, a form of heart disease.” Heart disease accounts for one out of every four deaths in the United States. Every year nearly 750,000 Americans experience a heart attack, of which around 525,000 are first time occurrences. According to the Center for Disease Control, “high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans have at least one of these three risk factors.” The connection between a diet high in cholesterol and heart disease remains clear, yet the federal government continues to promote a diet consisting of foods counter to their mission. It is time to hold the federal government accountable.

Preventative medicine is a significant component of the current health insurance reform debate. However, the fact that preventative medicine is only discussed as it relates to the opioid epidemic is problematic. The opioid epidemic is a major catastrophe, however, preventative medicine should be expanded to other areas. Over 610,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, more than eighteen times greater than the amount who die from opioid overdose. Nationally, four out of five people have at least one modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The recurring theme in this data is that the majority of Americans have the means to control heart disease with a nutritious, whole foods diet and exercise. The federal government has done insufficient work in promoting the proper tools for a healthy lifestyle, leaving the American people with a flawed guideline. Preventative medicine will require attention in the near future or else the United States of America will continue its downward spiral toward sickness.

Mitchell Nemeth is pursuing his Masters of Law at the University of Georgia.

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