Friday, January 18, 2008

Health Care and Healthy Lifestyles

Americans have lifestyles that are among the best in the world compared to people living in most other countries, especially third world nations and underdeveloped parts of many countries. Our standard of living is also among the best in the world, especially for the incomes realized by most people in the U.S. as compared to other nations. Granted we do have a federal poverty level that is published every year, and about 12% of the population will be below this level--compared to Mexico at 40% and Austria at 5%. In 2008, an American family of four meeting this criteria will earn $21,200. Not a lot to live on, but about enough to prevent starvation. And compared to Canada, the average standard of living in the U.S. is much higher. These figures, presented by the CIA Factbook, give an indication how the U.S. population stacks up against the rest of the world from an income perspective.

Unfortunately, many people living below the poverty level in the U.S. usually do not have insurance; and access to health care is a luxury versus a reality. Although there are people living around the world that make more money than some Americans, the comparison of economic living standards based only on nominal per capita income is not really an accurate view of health and well-being. In the U.S. there is a difference paid for goods and services based on where we live. For example, it costs more to live in New York or California than it does in Nebraska or Mississippi. A person making $40,000 per year in Los Angeles is going to pay more for gas, groceries, utilities, and health care than someone making the same income in Biloxi. Americans are feeling economic stress even though the economy has been growing over the past five years.

Many Americans have had retirement benefits cut and also are paying a bigger chunk of their health care expenses. Costs for core health services will continue to increase annually more than the overall economy according to a report published in the Los Angeles Times in February, 2007. Out of pocket expenses will likely double by 2016. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said then that our "per capita health spending is the highest in the world." And Families USA has forecast that as health care costs continue to increase and outpace earnings, more and more Americans will be uninsured because insurance will be unaffordable. The market place will need to find a sustainable alternative to ever increasing health care costs.

The best option for Americans is NOT universal health care. An increased role by government will be a poor way to provide services to uninsured and underinsured people. We would be faced with increased consumption and limited medical resources. Bureaucratic logjams, delayed treatment, deterioration in quality of care, longer waits in emergency rooms and clinics, and other detramental effects would be the result of a single-payer system mandated by the government. We have a moral obligation to provide health care to everyone who needs it, but we don't need the American taxpayers to subsidize it or the government to control it.

Dr. Donald Condit who writes for the Acton Institute offers some realistic options. Among them are free market reforms including tax law changes that would improve insurance portability and affordability. Also, he offers the interesting concept of decreasing premium costs by increasing interstate competition for insurance companies--it would even get many Americans removed from the ranks of the uninsured with an increase in the standards of health care quality. Add to these options the ability of faith based groups providing care from incentives available to them from government grants and private foundations. We also should not penalize those who are healthy by making them pay more year after year. Additionally, stacking punitive costs on employers who don't offer health care to employees is not a positive incentive to get them to participate in the debate for workable solutions. There are ways to make health care more affordable. We need to think outside of the box to help Americans continue not only financially but also physically to stay healthy.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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