I’m not interested in talking about Supreme Court decisions, the Affordable Health Care Act or for-profit versus non-profit business models. No, today I have something else in mind. It’s a perspective on health insurance that gets almost no attention at all despite the high costs and even higher stakes.
Let’s look at an actual definition first. From Wikipedia: “Health insurance is insurance against the risk of incurring medical expenses among individuals.” And can those darn expenses ever get expensive… Just as budget experts and lifestyle minimalists advise that the best price is no price when that’s an option, I’d argue the same principle applies here. The cheapest health bill is no bill. And what if our daily choices could help make this possible?
Let me back up and say that I’m not arguing anyone should skip purchasing health insurance (especially these days) or that even the most fervently “perfect” Primal lifestyle will ward off any and all mishaps, accidents or illnesses for which you will thank your stars that you have medical insurance. It exists for a number of legitimate reasons after all.
That said, I think we’ve lost some perspective along the way, including from the get-go assuming that we need to be dependent on our health plans because we’ll inevitably end up beset with many of the conditions we’ve come to deem as “normal” parts of life. It’s accepting the unacceptable if you ask me.
Let’s just consider how expensive it is to be sick. Take for instance the fact that 70% of us in this country take at least one pharmaceutical drug. Over 50% take two, and approximately 20% take five or more.
The estimated annual treatment cost of a person who’s been diagnosed with diabetes is $10,970. (Some estimates put that cost at $13,700 – 2.3 times higher than those who don’t have the condition.) Those who have it but haven’t been diagnosed tend to rack up an estimated average bill of $4,030. Even if insurance pays for a good hunk of this expense, you’re looking at a thousand or few thousand dollars out of pocket. I personally can think of more fun ways to use that money.
And run-of-the-mill obesity (that’s how we’ve come to think of it these days)? One study pins the average added medical cost at $2,741 than that typically incurred by a healthy weight person. The fact is, obesity doesn’t just increase the risk of common lifestyle diseases like type 2 diabetes but can also increase expenses related to surgery as well as basic care and prescriptions.
In the grand scheme, I may not be able to prevent every bad thing from happening to my body. I don’t have full influence over what toxins are present in my environment. I can’t go back in time and undo some of the things I subjected my body to for years – or decades. I cannot with utter certainty predict, let alone steer, every genetic misfire. (And, then, there are knee injuries….) But it’s flat-out stunning what I can influence.
Reality check: even by conservative American Cancer Society estimates, one-third of all cancers are caused by poor diet, sedentary lifestyle or obesity. In terms of activity levels and cancer risk, research routinely supports physical fitness as a protective factor against many kinds of cancer.
One study of 2,560 men over the course of seventeen years showed those who engaged in intensive level exercise (e.g. running) for thirty minutes a day had half the rate of cancer-related mortality. The choice to meditate, it appears, can lower the risk for heart attack, stroke and death by 48%.
On the flip side, let’s look at something like sleep. The cost of sleep deprivation – in some cases even getting a regular six to seven hours a night rather than eight hours – raises my risk of coronary artery calcification, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and obesity. I could go on (and do in plenty of other posts), but the key point is this….
How thoroughly married are we in this society to the idea of dependence on our health insurance – as if our insurance is our source of health? How much have we come to believe that our insurance is what will take care of us?
I’d argue that insurance is most appropriately and accurately a tool we can use to maintain financial stability in the face of unknown and unpreventable events. It can be a means of accessing treatments and services (or negotiated lower costs) we wouldn’t otherwise have access to when circumstance necessitates.
So, what is more accurately our source then – for maintaining and protecting our health as anyone can, for staving off the kinds of medical conditions and events that will cost us our physical vitality and our long-term financial security?
This angle brings up some provocative questions. What if we could begin to see our workout time as health insurance? How about healthy food choices like a side of grass-fed beef or a farm share of fresh veggies? What about wise supplementation and an extra 10 minutes in the morning routine to make some eggs? How about hiking boots and climbing equipment (when actually used)?
How about thinking of whatever helps us sleep well as health insurance – from a warm bath at night to a decent mattress to light blocking curtains to the perspective that nudges us to wind down with an evening walk when others are settling in for a few hours of primetime viewing.
And as long as we’re redefining health insurance, how about we throw in the self-discipline that keeps us from justifying stopping at the drive-thru over our lunch hours? What about the self-care commitment that keeps us from overcommitting and burning ourselves out? And the vacations, stay-cations, personal retreats, and other time off well spent? How about the personal research and skeptical if not unconventional thinking that allows us to make the best, albeit not always popular, choices for our well-being?
Can we envision these practices and the commitment behind them as the real foundation of our health care and preservation. And can we then see the consistent maintenance of good health as our primary safeguard against the burden of significant medical outlay? Talk about a different level of accountability…
It begs the question, “What did you do to protect your health today?”
Thanks for reading, everyone. Let me know your thoughts on the issue, and have a great end to your week.
Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.