Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Hour for Health Care

Health care costs too much. It’s more than 16 percent of all the spending in the United States. But what does that really mean? Think of it this way. If you are an average worker, you’ll work about one hour today to cover your share of the costs to operate the health care system. And not just today, but every day. One hour a day, seven hours a week, just to pay for health care.

To understand how excessive this is, imagine that we could do away with the health care system entirely. This could never happen, of course, but if we could collectively spend that one hour per day on living healthier lives, doing things like exercising, cleaning, and cooking, instead of paying for the current health care system, that would make a bigger difference than the health care system does. People would, on average, live healthier, more productive lives and live longer with improved lifestyles than with health care. Without the burden of the health care system, we could actually be healthier.

The right answer, of course, is not to do away with the health care system, but to cut it down to a fraction of its current size — to cut health care costs so that they are similar to what they were in the late 1970s, to reduce the scale of the health care system so that it employs not one in seven workers, but about one in 25.

This, of course, will not happen with the health care system working the way it is. Many things will have to change in the technology, administration, and regulation of health care for the cost of health care to fall by just 10 percent. But at least people are starting to realize that we can’t wait for the health care system to change. The health care costs we pay are the livelihood of the people who work in the health care system and the profits of the people who own it. It will have to be people outside the system, health care consumers, who get the first changes going.

It makes sense, then, that people are looking to books such as the new Brandi Funk book Cut Your Health Care Costs Now to find ways to personally spend less money on the health care system. This personal cost-cutting is just the beginning. The bigger changes will come when people have more personal knowledge about health and illness, and can take steps to avoid illnesses with simple daily actions that cost almost nothing.

Compare the cost of washing your hands to the cost of treating the flu in the hospital, and you’ll see what I mean. Washing your hands several times a day costs almost nothing, yet it’s the most reliable way to avoid the flu that science knows about at this point. Last year, with the H1N1 flu scare, people were more careful about washing their hands, and the result was the mildest flu season in recent memory. You wouldn’t know it from watching the news, but fewer people than usual got sick with the flu, and fewer people went to the hospital, and this was mainly, scientists think, because people were doing simple things like washing their hands. These are the kinds of changes that will eventually result in lower health care bills for everyone.