Sunday, April 19, 2009

How Do We Beat the Health Care Blues?

Anyone out here have the health care blues these days? Can you name someone who is just thrilled with their health insurance policy and the simplicity of meeting all their health care needs? The Obama administration is attempting to tackle a gigantic mess with the national health care crisis, and so many lives are hanging in the balance. The words nerve-wracking, frustrating and hopeless come to mind.

It is difficult to obtain full statistics about how many people have either lost their health insurance, been downgraded to a lesser plan with higher deductibles, or are crossing their fingers and not buying any at all. As of the 2006 census, over 47 million Americans were uninsured, and some speculate that post-recession the numbers are over 50 million. There are over 105 million Americans without dental insurance, and over 17 million people aged 19-30 years old who are the 'invincibles:' deliberately taking the risk not to buy health insurance and hoping they won't get sick.

Many of the writers here try to inspire you, give you tools to cope, and lessons to thrive through tough economic times. Certainly there is nothing more disruptive to positive thinking, setting clear goals and pursuing a dream than fearing that one bad accident means you can lose your house in medical bills, or that if a child develops leukemia, you may have to file for bankruptcy. The serpent of fear creeps through almost every income bracket. One medical malady could spell financial ruin - how do we deal?

The US is already the most stressed out nation on Earth, and the #1 cause of death is heart disease. Stress does not help heart conditions, and a majority of the issues that bring us to the doctor are stress related. What do most of us do about stress? Eat more (obesity), drink more (alcoholism and liver problems), exercise less (osteoporosis), eat the wrong sorts of foods (high cholesterol), or smoke (lung cancer). We all know these aren't the best choices. I know when I'm stressed out of my mind, a baby lettuce salad or a snickers bar is no contest, and an hour of TV is much more appealing than working out.

How did we get here, and what happened to the local town doc who came with the black bag and stayed for Sunday dinner? The incredible rise in health care costs has made us utterly dependent on the insurance industry. We don't even know what standard procedures cost anymore. How much does it cost to have your tonsils taken out? How much to correct sleep apnea?

Time Magazine's health writer, Karen Tumulty, wrote an article in March about her personal experience of the health care crisis when her brother, Pat, paid for personal insurance while unemployed, avoided going to doctors despite not feeling well, and sadly found that his kidneys were failing at age 54. A few weeks of tests cost him over $14,000, and this did not begin to cover the treatments required. To read the full article, click here:

Tumulty writes:

"Pat represents the shadow problem facing 25 million people who spend more than 10% of their income on out-of-pocket medical costs. They are the underinsured, who may be all the more vulnerable because, until a health catastrophe hits, they're often blind to the danger they're in. In a 2005 Harvard University study of more than 1,700 bankruptcies across the country, researchers found that medical problems were behind half of them -- and three-quarters of those bankrupt people actually had health insurance. As Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law professor who helped conduct the study, wrote in the Washington Post, 'Nobody's safe ... A comfortable middle-class lifestyle? Good education? Decent job? No safeguards there. Most of the medically bankrupt were middle-class homeowners who had been to college and had responsible jobs -- until illness struck.'"
Fear often has a paralyzing affect. Why aren't we, as Americans, angrier at this strangle-hold for basic human needs? Why do we let the insurance companies get away with tens of millions of dollars in bonuses being paid to their CEO's, knowing most of that money came from denying care to the sick and helpless? ABC's 20/20 ran a story on Friday about how AIG continues to pamper their exec's with spa vacations, while denying 43% of the most serious health claims of injured contract workers in Iraq.

In next week's article I will highlight a few ways our nation is taking health care back into our hands, putting doctors and patients back in front of one another, and taking action while we wait for an overhaul.

In the meantime, how do we beat the health care blues? Here are a few tried and true 'words of wisdom':

1. "An apple a day, keeps the doctor away." How many of you actually EAT one piece of fresh fruit every single day? How about the recommended daily intake of 5-6 fruits and vegetables per day? Come on, it's hip to 'go raw.'

2. "An ounce of prevention..." The world of alternative medicine has skyrocketed, and for many, it helps. Naturopathy, acupuncture, herbs and chiropractic care have helped millions recover from stress related illnesses and ailments.

3. "I get by with a little help from my friends." The Beatles were so right. Study after study shows the health benefits of developing strong social connections. If you need a drink, go out with friends. The laughs will do more for you than the vodka. If you want to get in shape, forget the gym and walk, bike or run with a buddy. If you want to eat, invite friends over and share a meal together. Stress reducing hormones are released when we are in close proximity to others.

4. "What the world needs now... Is love, sweet love." How often, on a given day, do you experience: awe, joy, curiosity, bliss, wonder, love or amazement? It is no accident that books on 'Happiness' are all the rage; increasing positive emotions boosts health across the board. Take the 'positiviy ratio' test by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, to see how you evaluate an average day's emotions.

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