Americans are on pins and needles as the Senate reviews the American Health Care Act. While we are unsure of what the final bill will look like, many are worried it could result in millions of Americans losing their health insurance.
The decision to pass a new healthcare bill could mean life or death for people who depend on it, especially those with pre-existing conditions. Our healthcare system is in somewhat of a crisis, but there may be another efficient and cost-effective way to change it through our own volition.
Today, health spending in the US topped over $3 trillion a year – that’s an average of $9,500 a person. Even with a high budget, we have shorter life expectancies and higher rates of infant mortality, obesity, and diabetes compared to nearly all our 16 developed global countries or peers.
More than 75 percent of the nation’s health care spending is on treating people with chronic conditions, according to HealthyAmericans.org. More than half of all Americans live with one or more chronic disease, like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Chronic diseases could be easily prevented through lifestyle and environmental changes, yet little of the nation’s $3 trillion healthcare bill is spent on prevention and public health.
In the US, we are dangerously close to a healthcare system that is only focused on disease management – one that depends on treatments, drugs, and surgeries that help individuals after they have been diagnosed with a certain condition. But what if we shifted the healthcare mindset from treatment to prevention? What if people worked out daily, ate a cleaner diet, got regular sleep? This could help to replace daily medications, encourage a healthier mindset, and drive down healthcare costs.
With more than half of Americans living with at least one chronic disease, our government should be focused on investing in prevention. Prevention can reduce certain risk factors that lead to chronic diseases and slow down their progression. Moving towards a prevention-focused approach includes taking actions to promote wellness rather than reactive medical treatment after a person gets sick. Many refer to a philosophy known as “integrative medicine.”
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, integrative medicine combines medicine or surgeries to treat the most serious, advanced conditions/diseases and uses complementary methods, such as nutrition, exercise, stress-reduction and other low-cost practices to enhance health and well-being. This field of medicine focuses on the person as a whole. It makes a lot of sense, so why isn’t this the way all healthcare regimens are employed in the US?
Some of the lifestyle decisions – better nutrition, working out, less time in front of the computer –require a certain level of commitment from the individual. However, it doesn’t have to be a one-man mission. There are things the government and even businesses can do to help on this front as well.
Businesses can benefit from a prevention-centric approach. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, an unhealthy population leads to higher rates of absenteeism. In fact, the annual costs related to lost productivity due to absenteeism totaled $84 billion in 2013. If companies encouraged healthy lifestyles and even implemented programs at their offices, they may get the best out of their team.
At OncoSec, we built an office that has a gym for all employees, floor to ceiling windows with natural light, and a bike sharing program. The staff is encouraged to take breaks – and incorporate some physical aspect into them, whether it’s a run, walk, or bike. We’ve even implemented a 5K challenge to see who can achieve the fastest pace in the office. We’ve brought in personal trainers and yoga instructors so there is something for everyone on the team. This has shown a happier, more engaged workforce – and these aspects are even used as an HR or recruiting tool to secure top candidates.
The bottom line is: while health insurance is critical, it is only part of the solution. We need to change the system to a more prevention-focused approach if we want our friends, family, co-workers to live longer, happier, and healthier lives. Changing the system will be a long, arduous process and will likely not occur overnight. But while our healthcare system is currently in flux, there are small things we can do as individuals and businesses to improve health and well-being for ourselves and others.