By Frank Wessling
Health care is the topic of the day — or rather, the cost of medical care and what to do about that. The dimensions of the problem are vast. Attempts to solve any part of it generate resistance and raise fears of unintended consequences. Talk of a revolution, meaning universal insurance coverage, disturbs large parts of our economy.
Still, disturbing or not, efforts to change present trends must be made. We simply can’t afford to go on as we are. Here is one small entry in that effort.
Careful studies of the way medicine is currently practiced in this country estimate that as much as 30 percent of Medicare spending goes for needless testing and other practices. Much of this is defensive medicine brought on by doctors’ fear of lawsuits and some is done to increase a doctor’s income. Investigation of the difference between higher and lower cost areas of the country found that a higher incidence of defensive medicine made no difference in health outcomes.
How might needless defensive medicine be cut? At least two proposals under consideration should help. First, accumulated data on best practices and treatments, or “evidence-based” medicine, will give physicians protection against unfair accusations of negligence or malpractice when they follow the data. Second, a system of caps on lawsuit claims.
But the greater driver of medical costs is careless habits in the American way of life. The term “health care” itself is our off-focus way of avoiding the problem. In reality we have a medical-industrial complex that is hugely expensive because we take so little care of our health.
For the most part we know what we should do to be healthy: eat more vegetables and fruit, be more active physically, drink water rather than sugared substitutes, consume less red meat, and simply eat less. Conditions that demand so much medical care — diabetes, heart and circulatory problems, obesity — won’t disappear overnight if we all adopt a healthy lifestyle, but a beginning can be made.
Our religious tradition has always valued healthy living, bodily health as well as healthy spirit. Let’s revive that tradition in our time.