From the 20 August 2007 Lockport Union Sun and Journal (Lockport, NY)
HEALTH INSURANCE IS NOT TRUE INSURANCE
By Bob Confer
A report was issued last week by the federal government indicating that Americans are now living longer than ever. The average life expectancy is approaching 78 years, a decade greater than it was just 30 years ago. This is great news and speaks volumes about the quality of modern health care and the wonders of science.
But, all is not well. The good news tells only part of the story. Even though we are extending our lives, we rank just 42nd globally in terms of life expectancy. This is a disheartening ranking because our nation is not only the richest in the world but we also spend the most on health care. The length of our lives has been exceeded in Japan, Singapore, a variety of Caribbean nations and most of Europe, with Andorra topping the list at 83.5 years.
The reason behind our poor and ever-declining rank (we were 11th two decades ago) is the fact that our lifestyles and approach to health leave much to be desired versus those leading the list. Those nations eat less fat and processed sugars and consume much healthier foods than we do. The standard American diet has become calorie-rich and junk-heavy. This bad behavior, coupled with disinterest in physical activity, has caused two-thirds of all American adults to be overweight and staggering third of our population to be labeled as obese. Associated with this fatness are a myriad of health problems that not only have decreased our growth of life expectancy versus the rest of the world but also account for painful and stressful midlives and Golden Years that rely on intense medical care.
Despite our society’s knowledge of the cause of our problems we continue to pursue excess and gluttony. That is because we have a system that rewards bad behavior and causes individuals to always think and act in the short-term. There’s always a quick fix to health problems, be it through medications, surgeries, or equipment. It’s so much easier for an unmotivated individual to rely on a crutch rather than make the minimal personal sacrifices necessary to maintain a health way of life.
Since all the education levied upon this problem – be it through schooling of youth or public messages in the adult world - has done nothing to suppress such behavior the most efficient way to address this would be to attack the thing that people value more than their health…their pocketbook. To do so, health insurance must truly become health insurance.
By any definition of the word, health insurance is anything but "insurance". It is more appropriately designated as "health coverage" since all individuals investing in the package pay the same, regardless of their situation. It is quite unlike the real insurances of the world (automobile, liability, life, etc.) that require higher-risk individuals to pay much higher fees than low-risk individuals.
If the health industry changed its ways and applied a risk assessment to each individuals’ investment in their health care then and only can we decrease bad behavior and promote good behavior. The current way of doing things is illogical since a relatively healthy and safe person is not rewarded for his or her approach to life, paying just as much as people who smoke, have been arrested for questionable actions (DWI, hard drugs, gang activities), get infected via unprotected sex, don’t exercise, eat grease, or are overweight. If a hearty eater or lazy person had to pay 30% more (which would amount to countless thousands of dollars per year) than a health nut, then chances are very good that they would change their ways and pinch pennies by pinching the fat (or ditching their vices). This would set off a welcomed domino-effect that would lessen our nation’s pervasive need for expensive cardiac, diabetic, and cancer services that were in days gone by based in hereditary causes but today instead find their primary causes to be founded in bad choices taken over the course of one’s life.
Money (read "consumerism") drives the American economy and our culture. It could also drive heath care. Were it taken away from those who want good health care but not good health then we could change the overall make-up of heath care in our nation, righting our sinking ship and preventing further reckless and unwarranted investment in a system that is currently buoyed by stubbornness, ignorance, and a lack of personal responsibility.
Health insurance must become health "insurance" by action and not just by name.