To truly fix the medical system in the United States, the nation must take another look at the problem itself.
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Brown v. Board of Education—Miranda v. Arizona—Roe v. Wade. These United States Supreme Court cases left a lasting mark on segregation in schools (1954), police arrest procedure and due process of law (1966), and abortion (1973). All three changed America forever.
On June 28, 2012, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius seemed destined to enter the elite ranks of game-changing rulings. This was the day the highest court in the land decided the fate of the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)—better known as universal healthcare or, more simply, “Obamacare.”
As the nation awaited the ruling on President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, a sea of protesters surrounded the Supreme Court building. The polarized audience spoke volumes about the debate: some homemade posters stated “Stand Up for Religious Freedom,” and others “Hands Off My Medicare”—women in lab coats waved “Protect the Law” signs—strips of red duct tape, with “LIFE” scrawled on it, covered mouths of anti-abortion advocates—and still others hollered “1-2-3-4, healthcare is what we’re fighting for.”
Finally, the verdict was in. PPACA emerged relatively unscathed with only one significant change—it was now a tax.
Democratic lawmakers viewed the decision as “a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure” and “a breakthrough of sunshine in a long dark night of…assaults on the American middle and working class.” One prominent leader even stated, “Our supreme court has spoken…the matter is settled.”
Yet it was far from settled.
The excitement and energy exhibited by PPACA supporters was matched by the disdain and discontent exhibited by opponents upon learning the court’s decision.
Multiple national polls show a majority of Americans view PPACA unfavorably. Many feel the law will “do serious harm to American families” and is “a profound attack on our liberties.” U.S. business owners speak of passing on costs to employees, slashing work hours, or terminating jobs altogether.
Opposition has also emerged outside of the U.S., with the Vatican openly opposing a portion of the law’s provisions. Catholic leaders objected to the “use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions” and the failure of the act to help “those most in need.”
With all the bickering, though, both sides generally agree on one thing: America’s healthcare system is in crisis. Exploding costs are hindering patients’ abilities to afford medical treatment.
Consider. In 1980, healthcare expenditures were $256 billion, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In 2010, U.S. taxpayers paid nearly $2.6 trillion for healthcare services.
This represents a tenfold increase in a single generation!
A reported 60 percent of bankruptcies in the U.S. are due to expensive medical bills. In effect, as Dr. Steffie Woolhandler told CNN, “Unless you’re a Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, you’re one illness away from financial ruin in this country.”
So-called Obamacare (at first derogatively named after its primary champion then later embraced by Mr. Obama who stated he does care) is an intended solution to the problem. Its aim is to reduce the number of uninsured and fix flaws within existing insurance programs.
Yet, three years after PPACA was passed with provisions to be phased in through the year 2020, the law has been unable to shake the controversy attached to it. Politicians, economists, pundits and those in the medical field have spent years attempting to justify, clarify or attack the nearly 1,000-page document that is the new healthcare law.
Everyone wants to be healthy. These same people, however, cannot agree on how this should be achieved. Clearly healthcare in this country is broken and America is deeply divided on how to fix it. Yet the bridge between the two sides is agreement that something must be done.
The blizzard of controversy over PPACA, however, hides the actual problem.
By and large, U.S. healthcare can be summed up in one word: insurance. It is intended to protect individuals and families against the possibility of a devastating financial loss. Many believe this system is the only way to avoid bankruptcy and the trauma that accompanies an expensive medical bill they cannot afford to pay—in multiple lifetimes.
Yet, even with insurance, a serious illness can lead to financial ruin.
In 2008, a hardworking, middle-class family of three in New Jersey learned this the hard way. The daughter described the day her mother developed a headache as one that “would change everything,” according to The Star-Ledger.
It turned out that the woman had a brain aneurism. In a matter of months, the family went from being a financially secure, two-income couple who owned their own house and had a daughter in college to being bankrupt and having a house in foreclosure. The debilitating injury plunged the couple into $650,000 of debt—and this was after insurance! Their daughter was forced to drop out of college a year from graduation to get a job and help pay bills.
Doing all he could to work two jobs and be there for his incapacitated spouse, the husband lamented, “I wake up every day and hope I can make it through.”
The mother, paralyzed and confined to a nursing home told the newspaper, “I will miss my family.” The lives of this woman, her spouse, and daughter will never be the same.
Paying for such medical hardships has become the strategy in the battle to resolve the healthcare crisis with insurance as the weapon of choice. The individual mandate of the PPACA, which requires the majority of Americans to have insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty, is seen by many as a game changer in the conflict.
The original idea of a mandate is said to be the invention of conservative economists. It was proposed at the time to counter liberals’ call for a single-payer healthcare system similar to the one in Canada. The idea behind the mandate is twofold: (1) to discourage free-riders who do not carry health insurance coverage and therefore rely on the emergency room for medical treatment, which increases costs for those with coverage, and (2) to partially fund the new healthcare law.
The Washington Post summarized the debate over the legality of the individual mandate as follows: “The legal question on the individual mandate centers on whether such a regulation is permissible under the Commerce Clause, which allows the federal government to regulate interstate activity. Health reform opponents contend that the decision not to do something—namely, not buy health insurance—is economic inactivity, rather than activity, and therefore not a behavior the federal government can regulate. Health reform supporters argue that the decision to not purchase health insurance has an economic effect.”
PPACA attempts to take it one step further and increase access to what is called preventive care. Preventive options include screening for all types of cancer, vitamin deficiencies in pregnant women, high cholesterol and blood pressure, sexually transmitted diseases, and obesity. The law also has provisions to provide wellness programs as well as counsel for those who are depressed, obese or smoke cigarettes.
All of these services have their merits. Doctors are trained to diagnose. Yet there is a problem and it speaks to the heart of the healthcare crisis.
Even before PPACA was introduced, the medical industry has been largely focused on treating patients after they are sick. Almost every preventive care option includes looking for a disease or malady. Usually, if a condition is found, it is already too late. If a doctor finds throat cancer—you already have throat cancer. If results show you have chlamydia—you already have chlamydia. If you find you have high cholesterol—you already have high cholesterol. (Granted, these can all be found and more easily treated in early stages, but they can mostly be avoided altogether by maintaining a healthful lifestyle.)
Healthcare in America is predicated on the notion that the overall medical system is fine. Yet even though healthcare went through a massive overhaul, all that really changed was access and affordability to current medical services.
This glaring inefficiency has nothing to do with Mr. Obama’s healthcare plan; it has always been this way. For centuries, healthcare has really been sickcare—addressing health issues after symptoms have presented themselves.
Who is to blame for this sickcare mindset? Why does the system spring to life after a problem has surfaced?
Some blame experts, going as far as to say that pharmaceutical companies want people to remain sick because that is how they make money. In their minds, profit drives the medical industry to be reactive in its approach. Others blame the general populace with claims that the average person only thinks about his health when he loses it. They argue that people would rather focus on fixing a problem once it has occurred rather than taking the more challenging approach of preventing it in the first place.
What cannot be debated is that modern medicine is more advanced than at any time in human history and America is at the forefront of the field. According to SelectUSA, an advocacy group that promotes the U.S. as a premier location for business and investment, “The United States is a world leader in healthcare services and an innovator in cutting edge diagnostics and treatments.”
America’s medical system does what it was designed to do: identify and treat illnesses after symptoms present themselves.
This thinking is not new. The field of medicine has been treating already sick people for thousands of years.
The ancient Greeks, under the leadership of Hippocrates, ambiguously made the connection between sickness and “natural causes.” Upon this discovery, disease was no longer seen exclusively as “unpredictable and striking unsuspecting victims.”
This discovery did lead to some improvements in health. For example, in the 17th century, doctors found that simply washing their hands prior to assisting with childbirth largely prevented puerperal fever—a disease that took the lives of an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 mothers.
While most historians claim “modern” medicine started with the Greeks, the main framework for healthcare began millennia earlier in ancient Egypt. In describing ancient Egypt’s medical prowess, Homer wrote in The Odyssey: “In Egypt, the men are more skilled in medicine than any of human kind.”
Egyptian physicians, for example, had a remarkable understanding of human anatomy as evidenced by their skills in mummification. Specialists for eyes, feet, intestines, etc., abounded during this time, just as they do today.
Records also show these ancient doctors even prescribed potions and compounds as treatment for maladies. Surgery was also commonplace through the use of knives, hooks, drills, forceps, pincers, scales, spoons and saws. Archeologists have even discovered the relics of prosthetic limbs.
Encyclopaedia Britannica states, “The search for information on ancient medicine leads naturally from the papyri of Egypt to Hebrew literature. Though the Bible contains little on the medical practices of ancient Israel, it is a mine of information on social and personal hygiene. The Jews were indeed pioneers in matters of public health.”
In the Old Testament, many health laws cover sanitation, waste management, disease quarantine, food guidelines, and much more. And while the Bible does not record much on specific medical practices, it does offer overarching guidelines on how to approach health.
One such basic principle is that of cause and effect.
The way of life outlined in the Bible is based upon this law. This Book contains hundreds of principles, with each carrying the power of cause and effect for those who keep—or break—them!
Many balk at the idea that the Bible contains principles for a successful life. Yet think on cause and effect for a moment. Failure to put gasoline in a vehicle can leave a driver stranded on the side of the road. Failure to change the oil can result in a blown engine and an expensive repair.
The average person works to make sure they do not find themselves in either of these predicaments.
Oddly, this clear correlation seems to vanish when it comes to giving the body the fuel it needs to function properly. People expect their bodies to keep running without the proper intake of water, vitamins and minerals—and seem at a loss why they are constantly sick.
This idea is apparent in the lingo associated with ill health. How often have you heard others say they “caught” a flu bug? Were the “victim” of a stroke? Or have “fallen” ill? Such terms imply that suffering the illness was inevitable and that the sufferer had no choice.
Once sick, most people instinctively scurry to the doctor to diagnose and treat the condition. But the effectiveness of pills and potions offered by those in modern medicine, limited as it may be, has blinded many to the benefits of being proactive in the prevention of illness. They erroneously cling to the pre-Hippocratic belief that acquiring a disease is outside of their control.
Realize that physicians cannot heal. Pills or treatments only synthetically enhance or suppress a natural bodily function in an attempt to speed the recovery process. The artificial environment created in the body by these medicines, however, often leads to an extensive list of harmful side effects associated with a so-called “cure.”
This all comes back to cause and effect. Most sickness is unnecessary. If you participate in high-risk behaviors such as sexual promiscuity, illicit drug use, eating only junk food—the causes—you will be more prone to sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and obesity-related illnesses—the effects.
The opposite is also true. If you eat nutritious foods and make sure to have appropriate balances of vitamins and minerals—the causes—you can avoid many unnecessary illnesses and overall have more energy and vibrancy—the effects.
A healthy human body is able to naturally fight off many viruses and bacteria. If a person does contract an illness, a strong immune system will often mean the symptoms are very slight.
Benefits of a healthy diet include a reduction in the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and coronary artery disease. These five maladies alone account for 74 percent of the total fatalities attributable to the U.S.’s top 10 “leading causes of death” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
While proper diet will not address 100 percent of all ailments, it is a core component of disease prevention. It allows each individual to achieve true healthcare by dealing with the cause of illness not just the effects.
A proper understanding of cause and effect is the key to solving the healthcare crisis.
A towering example of the effects of good diet can be found in the Old Testament. The biblical text identifies Daniel as a young man “skillful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science” (Dan. 1:4).
Daniel’s background led to him being recruited and brought into the palace of the king of Babylon to be taught a new language and culture. As a part of his immersion into this environment, Daniel was offered a diet referred to as the “king’s meat.”
History shows the diet of royalty was typically heavy in meats and alcohol, with few vegetables. (Note that gout, a form of inflammatory arthritis caused by a high-protein, high-fat diet, has long been referred to as “the disease of kings.”) The context of the story implies this offer was an act of generosity, with the king thinking that Daniel would benefit from food typically available only to royalty.
Conscious of the impact this unbalanced diet would have on his health (1:8), Daniel requested to be served only “pulse” (food that was sown or vegetables) and water for 10 days. Daniel knew the benefits of eating natural food. After the time expired, Daniel was seen to be in better health than those who ate the rich foods originally offered (1:15).
The young man successfully implemented the knowledge he had been taught concerning nutrition and gave his body the “raw materials” needed to function at its peak. Daniel properly made the clear connection between the cause of a good diet and the effect of good health. The connection is no different today.
Those interested in truly resolving the healthcare dilemma must realize that implementing an entire system that is proactive—based in part on properly equipping the body to function—and not reactive—depending solely on medical science for a cure—is vital to solving the crisis once and for all. This is the factor that has been woefully missing from the healthcare equation!
Take charge of your life. You can learn to build and improve your health!
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