The Half-Truths of Self Reliance in Maintaining Personal Health – Part 2

2010-02-14 | |
Last updated: 2010-02-14

In the last article on self-reliance, health care effectiveness and personal health, the role of personal finances and insurance in controlling health care costs was discussed. Neither purely conservative nor purely liberal approaches lead to outcomes that are both sustainable for health care systems and for individuals. A mix with government controls and business efficiency seeking was argued as a better model.

Moving on from personal payment for health services, another important aspect of self-reliance in health care that conservatives often promote is the act of looking after one’s own health. The concept here is to take personal responsibility for one’s actions to ensure good health. Advocates of such an approach mention obesity and people sitting on their couch as a clear indicator for the need to make people responsible.

While this idea sounds good at a simple level, it ignores the many chronic conditions that people inherit. In the US, some 21 million people have arthritis, 10 million have osteoporosis, and 2.2 million suffer from heart beat irregularities that can lead to heart attack. Furthermore, 700,000 have type-1 diabetes, 600,000 have inherited high cholesterol and 400,000 have multiple sclerosis. It also ignores injury for which people are not at fault. This means that a lot of people have to do the best they can with an unfair disadvantage.

In many cases, sufferers of these conditions do not have the option of self-reliance though many would be quite glad to achieve it.

Again however, while liberals may dislike pushing responsibility for health onto the individual, there is some reasonable truth to the benefit of self-reliance with regard to personal health. Though there are 133 million people in the US with some form of chronic disease, more than 40% of the population, many of those conditions are preventable. By being self reliant and proactive with regard to health, individuals could drastically reduce the costs of health care delivery. These reductions could equally be applied in countries with more socialized medicine.

The key here is to provide real incentives to individuals to take control of their health. Small financial incentives for healthier living and health awareness could go a long way to reducing overall health care costs. Prevention is usually cheaper than treating disease so effective promotion of healthy living could dramatically reduce obesity, diabetes, colon cancer and lung cancer along with the associated costs.

Health and illness awareness by the public could even go further by allowing education to reduce risks from medical errors. A patient aware of what is being done to them can more easily provide valuable feedback when something is not going as expected.

Though more individuals would take responsibility for their health in this situation, it would be because they had real incentive to do so instead of relying simply on personality traits and upbringing. Though conservatives might baulk at such subsidization, the proof would be in the reductions to health care costs.

If the health of many individuals around the world is to be improved while maintaining reasonable costs for health care, it is crucial that each of us take some responsibility for our own health. However, maintaining individual health requires a partnership with our governments to make doing the healthy thing as easy as possible. Pushing all responsibility onto the individual results in inequality for the financially disadvantaged and those without personal motivation. On the other hand, pushing all responsibility to the government means escalating costs and an inability to sustain health care systems. We must be willing to seek that happy medium if we are to see individual choice, health care systems and individuals thrive.

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