Health care is all we talk about anymore; whether the President can get anything passed at all now that Ted Kennedy's seat in the Senate has been lost to a former pin-up. (Gotta wonder what Massachusetts was thinking that day.) Whether the health care bill currently bogged down in the Senate is worth the paper it's written on, and whatever other scare tactic news pundits can use to panic middle America about their coverage. But no one is talking about the root of the problem ... or its solution: prevention.
Everyone, it seems, is missing the point. No health care bill can save us from the worst enemy we face ... ourselves. I recently had the pleasure of being submerged in our system when I fell and broke my wrist. Just sitting in the emergency room of a major metropolitan university teaching hospital was enough to make me feel sick. After seven grueling hours of waiting, a splint was quickly, rudely and badly applied and I was sent home with a note to see a surgeon. And I have insurance! I can't imagine the kind of care the poor and uninsured receive.
Now before every overworked health care provider comments on this piece, let me say that I get it. I get that you are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people you must attend to on a daily basis. I get that resources are limited because of the number of uninsured needing emergency care. I get that these same uninsured use the emergency rooms as clinics and you don't see them until they are in the worst condition and their care is the most expensive. I get that the system is broken. I know that you are caring, compassionate, knowledgeable and exhausted.
What I don't get is why no one is screaming: not health care professionals, not the huddled masses praying for decent care in our emergency rooms, not the pundits who daily skewer the President for not doing more and doing it their way. Most of all, why aren't Americans screaming that we have had enough? When are we going to get sick and tired of being sick and tired? Trust me, there is no pill to cure this!
As I sat in the ER, my wrist throbbing, I noted that the majority of the people waiting for care were in the poorest of health: overweight, out of shape, dull and lethargic. And most of them were eating--you guessed it--McDonald's swill. As they sat in an ER, sick, they ate fast ... what do I call it? Certainly not food! Whatever it is that the Golden Arches sell as food is killing us in record numbers, slowly, painfully and miserably, and it's crushing our health care system.
I have not lost my compassion. I feel for these people. They break my heart, but at the same time, I wonder why they do not make better choices. Unless you are living in a world completely cut off from communication, you know that there are healthier options than fast food. You know that the meat served in these joints is loaded with growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, and is of the poorest quality imaginable, because it is all subsidized so it can be sold for cheap.
So again, I ask why. Every supermarket in creation sells fresh fruits and veggies and they are cheap. Not as cheap as junk food and soda, but they won't break the bank. And I know that you can get a lot more calories with a dollar's worth of junk food than you can with a dollar's worth of carrots. And you can use that as an excuse in this economy. But if you are completely truthful with yourself, you can't hide from reality. You choose not to eat healthier fresh food because you want what you want, right? You work hard and you are entitled to that steak, ice cream or fried chicken. OK, I'll buy that. But then you are also entitled to the heart disease, Type-2 diabetes, stroke and even cancer that you get as a result. And to be fair, if you want to make those choices, the results should be your burden to bear. Not mine or the millions of people who choose to live healthy lives and are forced to pay for the care of people who do not make better choices. Why should the fit, healthy distance runner be forced, through his expensive premiums, to pay for the bypass surgery for the guy who chooses to shovel fast food into his craw all day and thinks pressing the buttons on his remote is an upper body workout.
And I know a lot of us are confused. When you have Cheerios telling you that they are a whole grain, how would you know they are lying? KFC tells us that grilled chicken is healthier. Than what? Fried chicken? OK, that's true, but it sure ain't healthy. General Mills now adds a check mark to all their "Big G" cereals to show they contain whole grains and are healthier for your family. Really? Lucky Charms, healthy? With sugar-frosted oats, artificially colored marshmallows and 11 grams of sugar in a half-cup serving, this is hardly what could be called healthy. And they all do it. Every corporate monolith who wants to do the cooking for you does it, and they lie to you. Frosted Mini-Wheats won't help your child focus in class. Whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, barley and millet will. Processed, sugar-frosted wheat, well, not so much.
We are willing to tolerate this revolutionized food because it's cheap. But it comes at a high price to our health. We spend less on food today than any other people at any other time in recorded history. And the less we spend on food, the more we spend on health care. When I was a kid in the '60s, the average household spent around 18 percent of their income on food and less than 8 percent on health care. Now, as we cook and eat less fresh food, we spend less than 9 percent of our income on food and close to 18 percent on health care. Coincidence?
Here is the solution. Health care should be provided on a sliding scale, with health, lifestyle choices and age as the benchmarks. No kidding. I know others have suggested this, but it could work. And on many levels. Think of the incentives. Whole Foods Market is a great example. They are about to implement a program that encourages their employees to get and stay healthy. Beginning with a simple blood test and survey, each employee who chooses to participate will receive a diet plan. Each benchmark they hit (lower cholesterol and blood pressure, healthier BMI, etc., will result in a greater discount on their groceries purchased at Whole Foods Market.
Imagine a health care plan that does the same thing. Lose weight? Lower premium. Reduce blood pressure and cholesterol? Lower premium. Exercise regularly? Lower premium. Eat a plant based diet and stop relying on junk food to feed yourself? Lower premium. Reduce your use of pharmaceuticals? Lower premium. A plan like this could ignite the food revolution we need, the guidance we need to stop being confused; to rid ourselves of the burdens of preventable chronic diseases. Most important, we will break the stranglehold of corporate thieves who are stealing our health with the promise of ease and convenience.
It is amazing to me that to be healthy in this country, we need to work harder for it and resist what have become the social norms. Even Oprah, with Michael Pollan as her guest, kept making her case that we need not give up everything we love to be healthy; that we can still have fried chicken (as long as it's naturally raised). She is still trapped in the thinking that comfort comes from foods that are not healthy for us, that there can be no decadence or luscious flavor in food that is not bad for you. Eating a plant-based diet is delicious. Yes, there is work involved. Yes, you have to read labels and be aware of what you put in your mouth. Yes, it may be a little more expensive. But it's time to grow up and take back our own health, and our own health-care.
With the exception of catastrophic illness, injury or accident, our current health care system is to be avoided at all cost. At least until such time as lobbyists stop twisting it to their greed and our elected officials follow the President's lead and stand with us and not them, and we citizens grow spines and demand better, more holistic care.