Dollars and Results
What do we get for our health care dollars?
The U.S. ranks 50th in the world in lifespan. We rank 48th in infant mortality. We charge twice per health care customer what other developed nations cost.
This is a bad deal.
Why? We’re not paying attention to health.
The World Health Organization defines health as complete physical, mental and social health of a population. I would add spiritual health to the mix. Connecting with ideas larger than oneself gives people a much fuller sense of well-being.
What changes national health? Improvements in nutrition, sanitation, vaccination, education and lifestyle.
So let’s assume our parties could think about what’s best for the nation rather than their electoral prospects. What might they consider together to make a real difference in America’s health?
Proposals to Improve Health
Here are a few ideas:
1. Nutrition – emphasizing children. A nation of diabetic kids is a physical, social, economic and psychological disaster. Our tattered health care system cannot afford the diabetes epidemic coming down the pike.
How to change nutrition? 1. Stop subsidizing high fructose corn syrup. Many now argues that’s a big factor fueling the obesity epidemic in kids. 2. Get school lunches that feature fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods . 3. Teach kids about food by having them grow and cook it.
2. Sanitation – convene a national commission – like Erskine-Bowles – to look at three deeply interlinked issues – food, energy, and water (FEW).
Food today requires enormous water resources. It’s also used as biofuel, as in corn ethanol. Fracking (hydraulic fracturing) takes tremendous quantities of water, but we really want the cleaner energy available from natural gas; public water taps are getting filled with pharmaceuticals and pesticides.
The goals of the commission: 1. Balancing water needs. Households, energy, and agriculture all need to get enough 2. Set national guidelines for fracking and drilling that will not harm aquifers or drinking water, and increase energy independence 3. Make tap water around the country safe and desirable to drink. Buying billions of plastic water bottles is no way to get people healthy – or improve the environment.
3. Vaccination is one of the cheapest ways to keep people healthy. Yet vaccination rates are falling, getting us set up for future and present epidemics – like whooping cough. One reason – falsified data that convinced people vaccines cause autism.
Instead we should combine our new programs in biosecurity – preparing for biological weapons unknown and unseen – with present programs for national vaccination. If we get our present vaccination systems working efficiently we’ll have much quicker responses to future threats. We’ll also make for an immunologically enhanced, healthier population less susceptible to future diseases.
4. Education –U.S. students remain behind much of the developed world in science, mathematics, and analytic thinking. We’ve seen this picture before – after Sputnik in 1957.
At that time textbooks and programs were revamped using faculty from the nation’s most renowned universities. Our response has been “accountable” tests that propose more of the rote learning the rest of the world is trying to escape. Teaching kids just to take tests is not education. But an informed population is a healthier population – and more economically competitive with the rest of the world.
U.S. universities are still leaders in science and math. It’s time to piggyback on efforts by universities like MIT and Stanford. They’ve put out free internet courses that hundreds of thousands use around the world. It’s time to create similar courses for middle and high schools – and combine that work with in-class teaching. Look at physics textbooks from the 1960s and those of today – then you’ll see how much work we need to do.
Educated people are healthier people – especially when they can think analytically. They promote healthier lifestyles and better understand the statistics that underline most research. They are more economically productive.
5. Lifestyle. It’s time to emphasize transport – particularly self-transport.
People want to feel safe and secure. And they want to feel loyalty and connection with their neighborhoods and communities.
Increase green space and populations become healthier. Whether it’s because people move and walk more; feel more secure; become more social connected; improve their moods in natural settings; or other factors, is not yet fully clear. We know now from British and European examples that such policies work well – and they’re cheap.
Parks are much less expensive than hospitals. They are a lot less costly than future diabetic treatment bills. If kids cower in their homes because they’re afraid to play outside, we increase their risk of obesity and much else that’s bad.
At the same time it needs to be recognized that humans are walking machines. Many people will not walk or ride bikes on our sidewalks and roads because they’re scared cars and trucks – driven by distracted texters – will kill them.
It’s time to enforce pedestrian laws. Walkers should get priority for transport.
Because sitting is a risk factor for death. Self-transport makes people healthier, happier. They use less foreign oil and energy.
Last, it’s time reconsider mass transit, especially cheaper options like trams, trolleys, and surface trains. New Yorkers live two and half years more than other Americans not because the city is stress free, but because they have to move themselves to get almost anywhere.
Mass transit means more self-transport. And we can power those trains and trams with natural gas – or the electricity that comes from it.
America spends amazing amounts of money on health care. We could spend a lot less on health and get a lot more bang for our buck.
Do it right and we simultaneously improve health, national security, educational levels, economic productivity and the environment.
That’s a deal where Democrats and Republicans might find agreement.
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