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Dr. Cindy Haines Headshot

Health Care Reform, the Government, and You

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I would describe myself as a political. As in a-political.

I am an American, love my country, religiously pay my taxes, and do my part at the voting booth at election time.

But when it comes right down to it, I feel totally powerless when it comes to where the government is guiding this country. And that includes the state of our health care system. I am turned off by the bickering between parties and individuals, and the lack of productivity drains my energy. It all leaves me feeling exhausted and depleted. And I know I am far from alone.

So as the great health care reform debates continue to swirl, I watch with a somewhat detached fascination.

Then I turn my energies to what I know I can do. This is where I pull out the Serenity Prayer as a call to action for myself. You know how it goes: Knowing what I can control (and taking action) and what I can't control (and letting it go).

My co-author of "The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System", Eric Metcalf, and I wrote our book to fill a void. There are volumes of titles out there about what the major players in health care can and should be doing to rein in costs, improve health outcomes, and provide better coverage to greater numbers of Americans.

These major players are hospitals, health care administrators, health care professionals, third party payers, and, of course, the government.

But what we weren't seeing is possibly the most crucial player of all: the consumer of health care. In other words, the patient. In other words, you, me and everyone we love.

A recent piece in the New York Times online by Mark Bittman nicely and persuasively summed up our thinking. He writes that diseases that are largely caused by our lifestyles cost more than 14 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP). Out of a GDP of about $15 trillion -- give or take a few billion -- that's about $2 trillion. We could be saving hundreds of billions of dollars annually if fewer of us had hugely expensive but largely preventable chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Bittman doesn't go into this, but we could also save massive amounts of health care dollars by using health treatments more rationally. As in:

• Using expensive surgeries only for the people who they'll really benefit.
• Discarding treatments that aren't proven to work.
• Finding a rational way to approach end-of-life issues. According to 60 Minutes, health care costs in the last two months of life added up to more than $50 billion on Medicare's tab in a recent year.

So as the major players who made the major news debated, argued, and attacked, a great opportunity was missed, with the greatest players sitting on the sidelines--probably overwhelmed and feeling powerless, like me.

Individual Americans, not America as a whole or its government, need to get to work in order to slash our individual and collective health care costs.

What does that mean? It means we let go of what we cannot control (eg, what happens on a global or government scale) and focus on what we can control. Our individual financial and health security, as well as our nation's, will be determined in large part by the food and drink we choose to put in our mouths and by whether we spend our spare time sitting down or moving around.

I start here; won't you join me?

The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms. More medical care doesn't mean better health. Dr. Haines and Metcalf reveal some of the most egregious problems with a medical system gone awry, opening readers' eyes to how to better navigate the changes underway. Using solid research, insiders' insights, and patient anecdotes, they offer cost-effective and potentially life-saving ways to get more out of health care while using less of it.