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Karen Kisslinger Headshot

Caution America: Your Economy Needs You Sick; the Sicker the Better

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Sometime last year, I listened to an optimistic report over the radio, reporting that Pittsburgh didn't really need to worry about the demise of the steel industry because the health care industry there was doing so well and prospering in the form of major medical centers and facilities.

Well great I thought...that means the economy is thriving because Pittsburgh can serve tens of thousand of really sick people. Major medical centers, as opposed to community health centers and community hospitals have all the biggest, priciest, most profitable machinery. Now yes, illness and health problems are a part of life, but it's now basic to our economy that we are living unhealthy lives, becoming unhealthy and then feeding a parasitic, though sometimes life-saving , health care system that is one of the only thriving parts of the economy.

It's a basic truth of our economy that we are putting tens of billions of dollars into treating type II diabetes, an almost completely preventable disease, instead of devoting those dollars to education, child care, infrastructure repairs or other social basics. Multiply this times many preventable diseases and you have the picture of our bleeding economy, unable to take care of basic human needs for healthy living because it is patching up unhealthy lives with very very expensive technology-based disease care.

I respect and admire the many life-saving technology feats of modern medicine, and I am thankful that I have the privilege of access to them through the good fortune of excellent health insurance, but our lack of a basic prevention oriented approach is completely unsustainable.

Many working class teens now aspire to jobs in health care because it's one of the only truly safe sectors of the economy in which to find jobs. Again, this relies on millions of sick people turning up everyday to use the system.

Yesterday I had to wait for a prescription at my local chain drug store. I had to wait extra time because in twenty five years of living in this town I had never gotten a prescription drug, and had to be put in the computer and then they had to find my message lost somewhere in their phone intake system. Everyone behind the counter was completely overwhelmed. You would never know there was anything slow about the US economy from the activity going on behind this pharmacy counter. The clerks and cashiers were completely frazzled and beyond friendliness. The besieged pharmacist, who I'm sure thought he'd gone to pharmacy school to practice pharmacy, was spending most of his time on the phone with stressed-out customers...or with insurance companies trying to get prescriptions covered. This, he told me, is not what I expected when I went to pharmacy school. It's crazy he said.

"You know what's really crazy?" I asked. "It's crazy to watch obese, diseased people line up to buy bags full of prescription drugs for everyone in their family in the same shopping cart they are buying bags full of candy and other complete junk foods to celebrate the Easter holiday." I don't think it should be legal for the same store-corporation to make money from foods that contribute to the causes of diabetes (and other diseases) and also make money from expensive medicines that contribute to the medical treatment of diabetes and other diseases. "That's insane," I said. He laughed.

So...what can you do to reverse the worst aspects of our current economy? You can attempt the almost impossible, given the stress level, economic woes, lack of satisfying work, lack of exercise and poor quality of food that most Americans are living with these days: You can stay healthy and in doing so redirect the economy away from wasteful health care expenses toward the provision of basic human needs. You can eat healthy food every day, and even more importantly you can learn to grow food...wherever you are in whatever small way possible. Slow Food is important...but Grow Food is becoming increasingly essential. Oh, and exercise, and as May approaches you'll finally be able to get out in the sun and make some real Vitamin D.

In the meantime, when you do get sick, you should be provided with the best possible care regardless of your ability to pay because healthy care and disease care really are basic human rights, and until we get that straight, universally required insurance policies will never solve the problem of profit based "Health Care"...which is "good" for the economy numbers, and can save our lives in emergencies..... but does not necessarily promote our long term healing, health and well being.

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