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Nine surprising reasons U.S. healthcare costs the most, yet delivers the least overall (part two)

Part one discusses three reasons for our costly, yet ineffective healthcare system that have little to do with legislation: our malpractice system, our culture of unhealth, and poor nutrition that creates chronic inflammation within our cells, which, in turn, manifests chronic diseases. Part two discusses the consequence for treatment that is doled out, the lack of functional medicine, and that it is nearly impossible to comparison shop for medical procedures.

Keep them coming back for treatment
Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal, author of An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back lists 10 “economic rules of the dysfunctional medical market” in her book. Her rule number two is, “A lifetime of treatment is preferable to a cure.”

During an interview on NPR, Rosenthal, while referring to rule number two, said, “One expert in the book joked to me … that if we relied on the current medical market to deal with polio, we would never have a polio vaccine. Instead we would have iron lungs in seven colors with iPhone apps.” (How U.S. Healthcare Became Big Business, NPR, Fresh Air, Terry Gross, April 10, 2017).

Functional medicine
Functional medicine assesses everything a patient does in order to get the patient and doctor working together to address the root causes of illness and needed lifestyle modifications.

This functional, integrative, approach worked for me. I have a chronic health condition that was made much, much worse courtesy of ineffective treatment — I was hospitalized eight times between the ages of 18 and 26. I have since reached middle age without a trip back to the hospital save for two trips to the maternity ward.

What changed? I learned how to take care of myself. This took lots of research, including identifying triggers and a number of lifestyle accommodations, such as keeping my blood sugar steady, letting go of crash diets, and exercising nearly every day.

Change is tough. Most people don’t significantly change their routines without a lot of support. Health coaches can help patients trade their unhealthy habits for healthy ones.

Nearly impossible to compare prices
Story after story abounds of patients futilely attempting to research prices for necessary surgery or medical equipment in the U.S. The Wall Street Journal reports that it is getting a tad better (How to Research Health Care Prices, guides.wsj.com ). However, the trickier the research at hand, the longer it takes, and most consumers are becoming more and more time challenged by workplace, commuting, educational, fund raising, and other demands.

(end of part two of three parts)

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Nine surprising reasons U.S. healthcare costs the most, yet delivers the least (part one)

What’s lost in all this discussion about repealing the Affordable Care Act is that U.S. healthcare costs more than every other industrialized nation, yet delivers some of the worst returns. United States Comes in Last Again on Health, Compared to Other Countries (Maggie Fox, nbcnews.com, Nov. 16, 2016), “Americans still pay far more for medical care than people in other rich Western nations but have little to show for all that spending.”

Other countries handle their healthcare differently — they create less expense, but produce healthier, more productive citizens. The way our malpractice insurance system is structured, a culture that promotes unhealthy practices, processed food leading to chronic inflammation, which triggers chronic illnesses, overuse of pharmaceuticals, ignorance as to the role addiction plays, lack of functional medicine, and that it is nearly impossible to compare prices for medical treatment are some of the surprising reasons the entire U.S. economy is held hostage to its healthcare system.

Malpractice not the same in Europe
In single-payer systems such as Germany’s, doctors are not independent operators, they are employees of hospitals, and the hospitals are held accountable and the ones sued. Malpractice therefore is less onerous and less costly. “In the other countries, where doctors working in a hospital are employees, there is internal quality control,” Professor Uwe Reinhardt, Health Economist Princeton University (Frontline, Sick Around the World, How Does it Work for Doctors in These Five Countries?, pbs.org).

The Library of Congress explains further, “The causes of liability for medical malpractice under German law are similar to those encountered under the laws in the United States. German damage awards, however, are still much lower than those awarded in the United States, even though the German awards have increased in recent years.

“The German health care system provides universal access and coverage for the entire population. It is, however, a decentralized and diversified system that consists of more than 200 insurers that compete with each other to some extent,” (Library of Congress: Medical Malpractice Liability: Germany, loc.gov).

Culture of unhealth
Much of our culture subtly promotes and rewards illness and injury, which, in turn enriches pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and law firms. Some examples:

  • Apartment buildings inches from freeways – asthma anyone?
  • Sleep treated as optional – Alzheimer’s, obesity, auto accidents… (The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington showcases the research regarding the consequences of sleep deprivation.)
  • Sugar on every corner – eating too much sugar and processed food leads to chronic inflammation of the arteries
  • Sitting nearly all waking hours — Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death (Julie Corliss, Harvard Health Blog, January 22, 2015, health.harvard.edu)
  • Nutrition treated as a nice to have as opposed to disease prevention
  • Financial stress — post-2008 Sharing Economy…
  • Lack of exercise

And then there’s the job juggle. The more jobs, the more hours, the more commuting the average citizen has to endure, the more the health risk factors pile up.

Poor nutrition creates markets for high-priced pharmaceuticals
Recurrent miscarriages and the ticking of my biological clock prompted me to improve my nutrition. I have, at times, struggled with extreme eating habits since childhood. I found the help I needed to change in a support group that practiced a spiritual discipline. I knew I was an emotional eater, but I discovered that I was sugar sensitive and had an addictive response to sugar and white flour. I learned tools such as planning meals, meditation, outreach calls, and journaling that provided alternatives to overeating and helped me to change my habits.

Hundreds of individuals passed through those meetings. Some had lost 100 pounds or more and had kept the weight off for years. Many had lost 30 to 50 pounds. I used to think that the only consequence from eating too much processed food was gaining weight, but I repeatedly witnessed members sharing significant health improvements with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and more. Many no longer needed pharmaceuticals to treat their chronic conditions. Not only had they changed their nutrition, but they had changed their attitudes and their lifestyles to make the changes stick.

Preventing heart disease with nutrition
Several cardiologists explain why magnesium and healthy eating are generally the answer to heart disease, not statin drugs.

“We know that inflammation in the artery wall is the real cause of heart disease. Simply stated, without inflammation being present in the body, there is no way that cholesterol can accumulate in the wall of the blood vessel and cause heart disease and strokes. Without sufficient magnesium in the body inflammation results and it is the inflammation that causes cholesterol to become trapped. Quote?” (“Inflammation and Pain Management with Magnesium,” last modified on Feb. 9, 2017, drsircus.com).

“There is no escaping the fact that the more we consume prepared and processed foods, the more we cause inflammation in the body. The human body cannot process, nor was it designed to consume, foods packed with sugars and soaked in omega-6 oils. Treat the inflammation and not the cholesterol (“Treat the inflammation and not the cholesterol,” July 16, 2015, drsircus.com)

I only touched on the link between how eating an abundance of processed food year after year helps to manifest chronic illnesses.

(end of part one of three parts)

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