10/25/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What is a Long Healthy Life Worth to You?

Please answer the title question for YOU, not as an academic, theoretical discussion or a test in school. What would you personally give, pay, or do to have a long, healthy lifespan?

(The picture above is a representation of Abraham: the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to the Bible, he fathered a son - Isaac - at 100 years of age. By anyone's definition, that would be a long, healthy life. His pained expression may be related to...his marital issues.)

I hope you are considering this question seriously.

...Mulling it over?

Still thinking?...Good.

Is your answer clear in your mind? Now consider that answer in relation to three words: Money, Change, and Action.

Do you assume that a long, healthy life is your due? Therefore, you shouldn't have to pay for it. Many people feel this way. The problem is that your "due" gets undone by: (A) What you do, and (B) Happenstance.

If you eat to excess; put harmful substances into your body such as cigarette smoke, alcohol, and drugs; fail to exercise; and accept too much stress in your life, you are polluting the healthy body you were given. You then expect the health care system to get/give you that long healthy life you see as your due. Okay, but someone has to pay for the goods and services needed to get you your "due." Who should pay?

Bad things can happen, such as coronary disease, to a 160-pound distance runner like Jim Fixx. He could not outrun his genes, which handled cholesterol badly. So, even if you take good care of your body and mind, you still can get heart disease, cancer, a broken ankle or appendicitis. Though you did nothing wrong, you still need medical care and someone has to pay for it. Who?

Most people find change frightening and avoid it like Ebola. Would you be willing to change your lifestyle if by so doing, you got what you said you want: long, healthy life? Based on the behaviors of millions, long healthy life is NOT worth tossing away the cigarettes, pushing away from the dinner table before you are stuffed, and going for a bike ride (with a helmet on).

I interpret these actions (or lack of action) in two ways. First, people do not want to change, even when it is in their own best interests. Second, some believe that their "due" - long healthy life - includes the freedom to abuse our bodies and then expect some health care provider to fix the consequences. That last is not possible, and the attempt costs money.

Will people change for their own good and/or to save money? Will you?

Change is an action. Are you willing to ACT to have that long healthy life?

First, you must convert from passive to active with respect to your personal health. The person responsible for acquiring your "due" is you, not the doctor. That requires actions by you in both personal lifestyle and in relationship to healthcare.

I hate the phrase "delivery of health care." It implies someone delivers (acts) and someone receives (is passive, like a mailbox). If you want a long healthy life, you need to act on your own behalf, not simply sit there and be a receptacle.

The second action is for our collective health, as a nation. As long as we sit and wait for fundamental healthcare system change by Washington, the AMA, the self-styled experts, not to mention the insurance industry or the trial lawyers' association, we are Waiting For Godot. This is my code for: it will never happen.

Do not be fooled by stirring sound byte promises, especially in an election year. Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton +/- Bill cannot solve healthcare with some sweeping piece of legislation (even if Congress passed it) or by waiving a magic wand. Only WE can fix healthcare but we cannot do this until we have a consensus on what we want healthcare to DO.

Therefore, the second action (the first is changing our personal behaviors) is to demand a national dialogue for us to consider and then decide what we want healthcare to do for us. Washington can and should orchestrate such an extended national discussion but once started, it cannot control the outcome. WE WILL DECIDE.

If you choose to do nothing, then a long, healthy life is not worth: your money, your acceptance of change, and your willingness to act.