Doctor’s Tip: What we really need to do to bring down health care costs
Our dysfunctional health care system has been likened to an overflowing sink, with physicians continuously mopping the floor, and hospitals, and Big Pharma gleefully supplying expensive paper towels and mops — when the obvious thing to do would be to turn off the faucet.
There was an article in the Aug. 26 edition of the N.Y. Times titled “Our Food Is Killing Too Many of Us, improving American nutrition would make the biggest impact on our health care.” It was written by Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of one of the most prestigious nutrition science schools in the country — Tufts; and Dan Glickman, who was secretary of agriculture from 1995 to 2001. The column pointed out that no matter what form of health care system we have (single payer, current system or whatever), costs will continue to rise unless we address the reason Americans are so sick.
Americans are indeed sick — more of us are sick than are healthy:
• Half the adult population have pre-diabetes or diabetes — conditions that cost $327 billion annually.
• About 122 million Americans have diagnosed cardiovascular disease, which costs $351 billion and results in 840,000 deaths annually.
• Three out of four adult Americans are overweight or obese, estimated to cost $1.72 trillion a year.
The N.Y. Times article points out that we need to figure out what is making us so sick and how we “can reverse this so we need less health care.” It goes on to note that “the answer is staring us in the face, on average three times a day: our food.”
Following are some of the “food as medicine” solutions suggested in the article.
• Nutrition assessment should be a part of all electronic medical records.
• Medical training should include information about how food causes disease and how it can prevent, treat and reverse disease.
• Licensing exams for health care providers should include a section on nutrition.
• Updated nutrition information should be included in required continuing medical education courses.
• There should be programs that would enable physicians to offer prescriptions for healthy produce.
• For the sickest patients, home-delivered, medically tailored meals should be covered by Medicare and Medicaid and by private insurance. It is estimated that this could “save a net $9,000 per patient per year in health care costs.”
• There should be taxes on sugary beverages and on junk food.
• Healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains should be subsidized.
• Work sites should demand healthy food when negotiating with cafeteria vendors and should include incentives for their employees that encourage healthy eating.
Unfortunately, none of our current leaders are talking about this, nor are the candidates running for office in 2020. Whether citizens want to maintain the current system, improve it or have a single-payer Medicare for all system, these issues need to be discussed.
Retired physician Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is author of new book “Enjoy Optimal Health, 98 Health Tips From a Family Doctor,” available on Amazon and in local bookstores. Profits go towards an endowment to the University of Colorado School of Medicine to add prevention and nutrition to the curriculum. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention, diabetes reversal, nutrition, and other health issues. Call 379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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