Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Why are Americans so unhealthy?

Researchers discover that American health care costs are so high, in part, because Americans are so unhealthy. Experts blame a lack of preventive care, amongst other things.

So why do American companies and insurers promote an unhealthy lifestyle and refuse to fund preventive care? Well, it's because of the way the system is set up. The system is set up to encourage insurers and corporations to push health care costs into the future. It costs more to treat an illness than to prevent an illness, but they are betting that by the time the worker's health collapses due to lack of preventive care, the worker will be working at another company or will be on Medicaid due to being unable to work. In short, health insurance companies and corporations treat your health like a bank loan that they are betting someone else will repay. They take out a loan against your health, a loan with a very high interest rate (the amount extra it costs to treat rather than prevent illness), and gamble that by the time the loan comes due, you'll be with another company and the other company will have to pay back that health loan. It's all dollars and cents for them.

So how do we produce incentives in the current system? You can't. A mobile workforce with significant labor flexibility is needed to maintain productivity in a modern economy, so any system where the corporation, not the individual, pays for health care costs is inherently biased to push those costs into the future where hopefully you'll be working for another company. Even in the case where individuals rather than corporations buy health insurance, there may be an incentive to not fund preventive care because the health insurance company is betting that by the time the health loan comes due, you will have switched insurance plans to another insurer and the other insurer will have to pay. It may be possible, via much government intervention, to patch up the system for individuals, but only universal single-payer health insurance is guaranteed to remove the disincentive to fund preventive care, because only universal single-payer health insurance guarantees that pushing health care costs into the future results in higher costs to the insurance fund.

In short, focus on short-term profits has ruined America's health. Only by removing short-term profits from the equation can we eliminate the drag on the economy that unhealthy people present. Unhealthy people are not as productive as healthy people, and any system which produces huge numbers of unhealthy people by its very nature cannot be said to be either morally acceptable or financially acceptable. We need universal health care in America, not yet more patches upon a system that is inherently broken due to its fundamental design. If America's health care system were a car, it would be a Yugo repaired with parts from a Fiat with electrics by Lucas, doomed to forever be dropping parts along the road when not killing its driver due to being unsafe in its very design. It's time to send the disintegrating car that is American health care to the scrap yard, and replace it with a shiny new Honda -- the same level of universal care that the rest of the industrialized world enjoys. Past a certain point, it just ain't worth fixing a junker anymore.

-- Badtux the Health Care Penguin

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