I usually stay away from politics here on SMART Living, but for an obvious reason healthcare is on my mind this week. But let me be clear, I don’t think that healthcare is or should be a political issue. Instead, our health and its care are two issues that touch every single human on the planet—including those of us who practice simple living or minimalism. Unfortunately, with all the blogs I follow—everything from minimalism to personal growth to spirituality—no one seems to be talking about this very all-encompassing concern. So, hopefully, by bringing this important subject out into the light we can recognize how vital it is and arrive at more conscious, aware and responsible actions for our future.
I think one big reason we don’t like to talk about health and its care is because we don’t really want to think about it. Like another one of those big elephants in our living room, by pretending it doesn’t apply to us we can tiptoe around it and hope it will go away. When I was younger that was definitely my modus operandi. Because Thom and I were self-employed we did not have health care until we hit age 40. The truth was we didn’t feel we had the money to pay for it—and just like most people under 40 today, we hoped by not thinking about it, nothing bad would happen. Oh sure we ate pretty well, exercised and maintained a reasonable weight—but behind those actions and our denial of the issue, we were living unconsciously and acting as if we were the two humans on Earth that would never, ever get sick.
We were fortunate. Luckily nothing bad did happen to us. We didn’t have children to consider so that made it even easier. But when we hit 40 we started observing others around us who occasionally had health issues and we knew the odds were against us. Even better, our finances had improved making it possible. Just a few short years later I was hit with my first serious health issue and with an operation and with the two hospital visits that followed, the total cost came out over $100,000+. A couple of years later I was involved in a motorcycle accident and clearing that up cost around $60,000. Obviously if we had not had health insurance to pay the majority of it, we would have been saddled with overwhelming debt and/or declared bankruptcy. Like I said, we got lucky.
However, please understand that I am not a fan of the health insurance industry. We started our current Blue Shield HSA PPO health plan in 2003 (yep, just ten years ago) with a hefty deductible and a premium of $218 per month for both of us. Doesn’t sound too bad right? Unfortunately, our premiums are now $727 a month, our deductibles have risen to $7,000 per year, and our benefits have been gradually diminished. Obviously I have aged 10 years so that affects every premium, but on the price chart for 2003, rates for my current age group were only $365. In other words, accounting for the same age, insurance rates like mine have over doubled in cost. And remember—that is just 10 years!
What’s funny (in a sad sort of way) is that we consider ourselves fortunate to be able to pay monthly rates that are more than many people earn all month in wages. We also consider ourselves fortunate that we have insurance. Several years ago when I became alarmed at the dramatic increases in premiums I started shopping around for different insurance. That’s when I found out we couldn’t switch because I had been diagnosed with a risky condition and no other insurance would have me. It didn’t matter that that condition was mis-diagnosed and that it took me nearly 5 years to get it removed—just like millions of other Americans I was unable to switch insurance companies due to a pre-existing condition. A person shouldn’t have to rely on luck to know their medical bills will be covered.
In case you’re wondering, I’m also not a big fan of the medical industry in general. I agree that doctors are too quick to prescribe pills, tests and operations when prevention can and probably should be the first option. I also agree that we are all each individually responsible for taking care of ourselves. Eating right, maintaining our weight, taking care of our bodies, and health prevention of all types are all part of the package. But as a teacher named Ernest Holmes once wrote, “If you need an aspirin, take an aspirin.” Conversely, if you need a doctor it is sure nice to know one is available and that you can afford to pay for her. Unfortunately, not all of us have that option.
What my example shows and anyone who has read anything about the current health care crisis in our country already knows, our country is facing a “systems problem.” While most of us in the U.S. consider our county to be a world leader, we are terrible at something as fundamental as the right to basic health care for our citizens. We pay 50% more than any other country in the world for every single health care need—and unfortunately the quality of that care ranks somewhere between 38th and 46th world wide. My country does so many things right—why is this so wrong?
Why have things gotten so bad? Fortunately there is lots of information available and I will post several links at the bottom of this post to help for those who want details. But in a nutshell, it’s bad because it’s all about the money. For example a stay in a U.S. hospital is over 60% more expensive than six other top industrialized countries. A visit to a doctor, specialist and even a dentist is 2 ½ times more than those same comparative countries. Pharmaceutical prices are at least 60% higher than five of the largest countries in Europe for 50 of the most common drugs. The evidence is pretty clear—we pay way more—and don’t even get the same quality.
So if something is badly broken it needs to be fixed. My belief is that the current plan, “Patient Protection & Affordable Health Care” is just one tiny step in the right direction. Is it perfect? Sadly no. It is full of problems and I can understand why many are upset. But something has to be done and we might as well get the ball rolling. In 10 years my “reasonable” health insurance doubled—if it doubles again how can anyone afford it? Changes clearly need to happen and we can’t make this a political issue. This is a quality of life issue.
So why should you care? If you are healthy now and/or have insurance, why work to change the system? Because eventually, should you be fortunate enough to live that long, it will affect either you or someone you love. It may be very hard for you to imagine right now that it is important, but trust me on this one, you want to make sure that you and your loved ones have access to quality health care when you need it. The time to take steps to cure this health care systems problem is now—not when you are in pain, not when your child is denied an operation, not when you watch a loved one dying. Now.
Minimalism and simple living talks a lot about getting rid of excess stuff. What I seldom see them explore is how health, and access to medicine and care is something that touches our lives deeply. We are all connected in visible and invisible ways and eventually there is something that will touch the rich man and the poor man equally. We are not going to get out alive. The stress of wondering how you might take care of yourself and your family as time goes by, and the exorbitant costs now necessary to do it, make it difficult to live a simple and happy life for millions of our fellow Americans. The only way this will change is if enough of us say, “Enough!” and demand that changes be made. There are plenty of solutions—the only thing holding us back is a belief by far too many of us—that it will never happen to us.
A few resources: