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We Have a Health Problem, Not Truly a Health Care Crisis

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One of the overlooked topics of the 2016 Presidential campaign was something Governor Huckabee mentioned a few times: The United States has a HEALTH problem, more than it has a health care or health insurance problem. Our collective health has been getting worse, which has led to more dollars being spent on health care.

With today’s non-vote of Ryan-Care, and the troubling ObamaCare status quo, much is being made in the media and elsewhere about how our health insurance system is a disaster. That is likely the case, but it is safe to say that if the health of Americans was better and stronger, the health care costs would be much less, and the health insurance debacle would be more tepid.

But as usual, society is trying to put Band-aids on the symptoms rather than address the root causes. Washington D.C. cannot likely cure what ails us, which include the following:

Obesity and its cousins

Nationally, nearly 38 percent of adults are obese [NHANES, 2013-2014 data]. Compare this to 1985, when no state had an adult obesity rate higher than 15 percent (http://stateofobesity.org/obesity-rates-trends-overview/).   Overall, obesity rates have at least doubled and in some states have TRIPLED over the past 30 years. (Full disclosure- I realize that I myself need to lose 12-15 pounds.)

Obesity has many problems beyond the obvious. Type 2 diabetes has a strong correlation with obesity, and those who are obese often times have high blood pressure and/or other heart conditions.

Thus, as we have gotten larger we are getting more unhealthy and needy of ongoing, and expensive, health care.

Drug epidemic and addiction

Nearly every day in most major newspapers you can read a story about the nation’s terrible heroin/ opioid crisis. This is very real, and also quite disturbing. From addicts that I have spoken to, they say that the “high” that they experience from opioids is 10x the high of other street drugs. And the experts will tell you that heroin and drugs like it trap a person chemically and physically like no other.

All of this equates to not just the myriad of tragic overdoses, but many long and painful cases of withdrawal and treatment and other side effects. These drug treatments all cost money.

Declining mental health results in worsening physical health

Many studies, including those released by the National Institute of Health, state that those with mental health problems and/or mental illness generally have more physical ailments than their counterparts. An oversimplified way of looking at it might be that if a person is clinically depressed and does not want to get out of bed, they probably are not jogging 3 miles a day or eating 7 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day.

Ask any primary care doctor and they will tell you that over the past 20 years the prevalence of teens and adults taking some kind of psychiatric drug is rising. Some of the stats are shocking. Perhaps there is a bit of “over-prescribing” going on in this realm, but even with that- it appears that we are suffering mentally more now than we were 20 or 50 years ago. This has health costs consequences.

Illegal aliens use health care, too

The estimate of the number of illegal aliens in this country in 2017 runs anywhere from 11 million up to as high as 25 million; nobody really knows. If we use a safe number of 15 million people, and the annual health care cost per person of $10,345 as detailed by DHHS, that equals $155,175,000,000 per year ($155 billion). No matter your stance on illegal immigration, this is a tremendous cost and burden on “the system”. Generally, these folks are not paying anything into the health care/insurance system- so the rest of us are picking up the tab.

There is plenty of blame to go around

While the government and HMO’s and insurance companies share a large part of the blame on escalating health care costs, let us not forget our own portion of the responsibility. As the few examples above show, America is a less healthy nation overall than it was 20 or 30 years ago. It should come as no surprise that our health insurance premiums and/or deductibles have been steadily rising over the past decade or so.

We don’t need another reason to try to live and be healthier, but the fiscal benefit is not a bad place to start.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and are not not necessarily either shared or endorsed by iPatriot.com.

Ken Lambert

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