Life expectancies for Americans have increased significantly over the past hundred years. Today, Americans can expect to live an average of 25 years longer than in generations previous, living fulfilled lives well into their late 70s.
Although the increased life expectancy is something to be celebrated, Americans still have some of the lowest life expectancies in the developed world. Additionally, this expanded life expectancy comes at quite a price, costing trillions of dollars each year on health care alone. In addition, the U.S. also has high rates of infant mortality, diabetes, and a number of other chronic health conditions that other wealthy countries in the world simply don’t have.
These phenomena have led public experts to try to extrapolate the root cause of these concerns. There are no doubt a number of problems that contribute to the core issue, but perhaps above all else, experts agree that the lack of preventative care in the U.S. is partly to blame. Disease prevention is one of the most common and least expensive ways that societies use to keep their citizens healthy. Unfortunately, by and large, the U.S. healthcare system operates in a way that treats symptoms after diseases have already progressed.
“A disproportionate share of the $2.6 trillion we spend on healthcare each year goes toward treating the sickest people–covering mostly high-cost hospital care for preventable chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer,” health expert Risa Livizzo-Mourey tells The Atlantic.
Her piece also highlights statistics that are linked to a number of life threatening behaviors, helping to illustrate the narrative that by targeting these high risk, preventable behaviors, Americans could potentially save billions on health care each year.
“Healthcare spending and lost productivity tied to smoking alone, for example, totals over $193 billion a year. It is estimated that obesity rates are responsible for $34.3 billion and $27.6 billion in additional spending in Medicare and Medicaid respectively, and 74.6 billion in higher spending by private insurers,” Livizzo-Mourey argues.
While health insurance dominates the narrative when it comes to solving America’s health problems, insurance is only one piece of a very complex puzzle. In order to have a robust health care model that meets the needs of every citizen, the public must be informed about preventative care and those programs must have adequate funding.
Strategies that aim to prevent these chronic conditions, however, are woefully underfunded. Less than four cents of every dollar spent on health care is allocated to programs that could potentially provide life-saving preventative care.
The lack of funding for these types of programs is troubling, since more than 50 percent of Americans live with chronic illnesses. Understanding this, more must be done to ensure that individuals have access to preventative care.
In a model that aims to treat illnesses before they occur, individuals will not only be able to avoid contracting life-threatening illnesses, but it will also help ease the undue burden of health care costs on the economy.
According to research by Trust for America’s Health, spending a mere $10 per person per year on programs that promote physical activity, teach about nutrition, and alcohol and drug prevention has the potential to save Americans over $16 billion per year.
Not only does this money benefit the individual, businesses also prosper from having a more engaged workforce. With lower health care costs and more disposable income, the economy can also thrive.
It’s important that preventative care be kept at the forefront of the national dialogue. Even more important are the structural changes that would have to take place in order for a preventative model to thrive. Doctors and nurses must be prepared to talk about preventative care with their patients, especially young people, who are by and large the least likely to seek treatment for their health issues.
Patients must also be aware of diet and nutrition, as well as being more informed about the risk factors of an inactive lifestyle. In addition, shortages in the medical field must also be addressed.
Though there are a number of obstacles to overcome, it’s clear that a more robust health care model is necessary. While the future of the American health care system is unclear, preventative and holistic care has already made an impact on American citizens. If America as a country hopes to ensure that citizens continue to live long, productive, and meaningful lives, it’s important that we continue to push this model forward.