Friday, November 6, 2009

Prevention and Health Care Reform, Part 1

As the debate about health care reform continues, I'd like to post some thoughts about healthy living and its possible role in health care reform, not just from a policy perspective, but a personal reform as well.

I recently read an interview conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish, Founder and President of the nonprofit Preventative Medicine Research institute, and Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa about Senator Harkin's views on health care reform.  As an aside, Dr. Ornish has done fantastic research about the role of healthy living in overall physical and mental health and has proved it possible to actually reverse heart disease through healthy diet and exercise.

A quote from Senator Harkin in the interview: "To date, prevention and public health have been the missing pieces in the national conversation about health care reform. It's time to make them the centerpiece of that conversation. Not an asterisk. Not a footnote. But the centerpiece of health care reform."  This interview was published December 28, 2008, nearly one year ago.  Hopefully I'm keeping up to date accurately on the health care reform debates, but I haven't seen prevention and public health take the stage in enough limelight yet.

This morning I was watching CNN's "American Morning" while peddling on the elliptical machine at the county rec center and saw an interview with Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) regarding the "House Calls" she has been ordering to protest health care reform.   In a recent appearance on the Glenn Beck show, Bachmann called health care reform "the crown jewel of socialism," and told Beck: "the only thing I know what to do at this point to kill this bill is to ask and plead for real freedom-loving Americans to come to the steps of the U.S. Capitol tomorrow....[Health care reform] will be a disaster. It is unconstitutional. But we need the help of the American people."

When I heard Bachmann talk about "freedom-loving Americans" this morning on CNN, my blood pressure rose.  My first source of angst was that Bachmann's interview sounded disturbingly like some of Sarah Palin's interviews and news show appearances during the 2008 Presidential Campaign, which I deemed anti-feminist, anti-intellectual, and anti-community.  Upon deeper consideration, I came to think that "freedom-loving Americans" need to use their valued freedom to get a little more education on the health care issue and what we can do to help ourselves keep our own costs--and our country's costs--low.

We can't deny that our health care system is broken and corrupt.  As Dr. Ornish said in his most recent Huffinton Post op-ed, "Of course, we need to provide coverage for the 48 million Americans who do not have health insurance. It is morally indefensible that we have not already done so.  Obviously, the Americans without health care need a reasonable, affordable, and effective solution so that when they do need help, they can get it without sacrificing their budget.

But much of our current health care system is one of band-aids.  We treat heart disease, type II diabetes, high cholesterol, and other lifestyle-related illnesses with drugs and surgeries that treat the symptoms but do not address the causes.  While there are people who need--and should not be denied--proper treatment for any number of conditions, I can't help but imagine a world in which we did far fewer reactive surgeries or prescribed fewer drugs to mask symptoms of poor lifestyle choice.

If we could reduce the number of people afflicted with lifestyle-related conditions, we would reduce the percentage of our personal funds and tax dollars spent on health care.  We'd live longer, feel healthier, and be happier overall.  And, it's way cheaper to get educated about lifestyle reform, eat healthier, and join a local recreation center than it is to pay for prescription drugs and surgical procedures.  It's cheaper for us individually, and it's cheaper for us as a nation.

But these changes cannot occur without a great deal of education and advocacy on how we can change our lives for the better.  It's difficult to change, even when we know we are engaging in unhealthy behaviors.  It's difficult to think about the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle because symptoms may not occur until much later in life.  Not to mention that eating healthy and exercising regularly requires a commitment of time, energy, money, and planning.  For the next few blog entries, I would like to make it my goal to provide vegan perspectives on health care reform and some easy ways to incorporate healthy changes into our daily lives.

Health care reform is certainly long overdue.  But I urge us to think about how we can prevent--and in the spirit of Dr. Ornish, reverse--some common medical troubles we may run into as a result of a poor diet and lifestyle.


  1. Great article... and how lucky for the rest of the world that we are exporting our "cheap food/costly consequences' diet

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Emily. Well said!