No one could dispute that healthcare is expensive, and the cost is going up with advances in treatment, technology and equipment. Healthcare reforms, like the Affordable Care Act, have already taken a larger bite out of a worker’s paycheck, and more increases are coming.
While healthcare costs are going up in general, an article in Forbes, “Who Causes Half of Healthcare Costs,” reported that of all patients in the healthcare system, a small percentage are responsible for the majority of dollars spent on treatment and other services.
Data from a study done by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality listed the five most expensive healthcare illnesses or conditions, which account for close to 50 percent of the cost of healthcare. Topping the list is trauma, like car accidents. Injuries or medical conditions resulting from trauma are almost impossible to control. Initiatives to prevent accidents and injuries as a whole may help reduce the incidence of trauma and the resulting costs.
The other four—cancer, heart disease, mental disorders and pulmonary diseases—are another story. According to the article, these illnesses that complete the 50-percent healthcare price tag are either preventable or could be treated in a different manner to reduce costs.
There have been major strides in the detection and treatment of most of these medical conditions. However, poor lifestyle choices by patients often undermine the efforts of doctors and treatments. For example, a patient with one of the top four who continues to use tobacco products or ignores his doctor’s recommendations on diet and exercise may actually make a condition worse, despite the best course of treatment. And, according to the report, healthcare providers are encouraged to spend money for treatment for the top five and other medical conditions, supported by the industry’s cost-plus reimbursement system.
Information from the Commonwealth Fund showed that, compared to other healthcare systems in the world, the U.S. uses double the number of MRIs, 90 percent more CT scans and pays twice as much for prescription drugs. Other information showed that despite the higher percentage of testing, some patient outcomes were below other countries' outcomes. While it stated that the U.S. excels in physician quality and technology, all that quality is expensive.
So, why aren’t people healthier and healthcare costs going down? Another interesting fact is many major illnesses or heath conditions are also linked in some way with the negative effects of the obesity crisis in the U.S. The article noted that 10 percent of all healthcare costs can be linked to obesity, which is a major contributor to heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Diabetes is largely driven by lifestyle choices, and according to the CDC, up to 50 percent of the U.S. population could be pre-diabetic by the year 2020. The CDC also estimated that 35.9 percent of the U.S. population can be classified as obese.
There are exceptions to every rule. Some people become ill with diabetes through no fault of their own, just like there are many factors that contribute to the onset of other illnesses and conditions. What’s the answer to controlling the high costs of healthcare? The article suggests the missing component may be courage.
Physicians and healthcare providers need to be more aggressive in pushing a healthy lifestyle that includes diet and exercise to control weight and keep people active. Health insurance plans could offer incentives for preventive care and lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or smoking cessation. Instead of a new wonder drug, taking a walk and making better food choices could be the proverbial stone that eliminates obesity and its effects at the same time. Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest.
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