staying healthy

Don't wait until it's too late: Practice health care rather than disease care

Don't wait until it's too late: Practice health care rather than disease care

Austin Photo Set: News_jeff kreisbergy_prevent disease_check ups_jan 2012_stethoscope

One major contributor to rising healthcare costs is the perception by the insured public that health care is “free.” This is because most of us never see the bill when we go to the doctor or hospital — it’s sent directly to the insurance company. Because it’s “free,” we might as well take advantage and get all the care that’s available, regardless of cost or effectiveness, right? However, if you look at your rising health insurance premiums, you soon realize that nothing is free. In fact, health insurance is a giant Ponzi scheme — we’re all paying for the other guy’s care costs.

In an effort to reduce health insurance premiums, millions of Americans are enrolling in high deductible health insurance plans that don't kick in until we’ve spent $1,200 or more out of pocket. The idea behind these plans goes like this: if you are spending more of your own money on health care, you’ll be more likely to be involved with your care — that is, ask more questions before consenting to a new test, procedure or drug. This is what’s called “consumer-directed” health care; the thinking goes, until we exhaust that high annual deductible, it’s our money on the line.

This sounds like a rational approach to reduce costs but, in reality, it turns out that folks on high deductible plans skip all health care services — the needed and unneeded. For many of us, it probably doesn’t matter; for the most part we take care of ourselves and are reasonably healthy. But, for some of us with chronic diseases like diabetes, skipping needed care will cost you (and the rest of us) more in the long run. Do you realize that half of all Americans have at least one chronic disease?

If we’re going to reduce health care costs, we must do all we can to prevent disease or intervene early in the disease process rather than use our health care system to relieve illnesses and symptoms that have already developed. In other words, we must change our current “disease” care system to health care.

Recognizing what’s at stake if employees get sick because they’re not getting the care they need, employers are establishing wellness programs to help employees and their families understand and reduce their risk factors to improve health and quality of life, while also avoiding serious and costly medical problems down the road.

Wellness programs are based on the belief that unhealthy lifestyles can be changed with the right support structure. Whether the issues involve smoking cessation, stress management, obesity or depression, targeted programs based on the latest advances in behavioral health research and technology are providing employers with increasingly effective and affordable methods for improving workforce health and productivity.

In an effort to properly manage chronic disease, some employers are taking wellness one step farther by offering laboratory-based wellness programs. One large study has shown that one in three participants were not aware they were at high risk for a serious medical condition like chronic kidney disease, high cholesterol and diabetes until they participated in the study. (These three conditions were chosen because of their high prevalence and related costs in the United States, and the benefit of effective intervention associated with early diagnosis.)

Early diagnosis means timely treatment and prevention of serious complications. The physical exam you skip because of the high deductible could keep your condition hidden until symptoms appear and the damage is done. A point of fact: 26 million Americans have diabetes and one third don’t even know they have it.

If you’re thinking that this doesn’t apply to you because you’re young, think again. Nearly 25% of those who were newly diagnosed with a chronic disease were 20 to 29 years of age.

Nearly all of the participants in the this study were insured, meaning that health care access alone did not guarantee detection of high risk for common chronic health conditions, and suggesting that lab-based employee wellness programs could play an important role in filling the gap.

The big challenge we have if we’re going to reign in health care costs is to get individuals to focus on the seriousness of these medical issues and the need to act sooner rather than later. These chronic conditions will only get worse if they are not properly managed.

It’s funny that we don’t have a problem spending thousands of dollars for say, custom wheels for our trucks, but a few hundred bucks for an annual exam? Forget about it! Just remember, despite what you might see on TV, there’s no magic cure out there for many of these diseases. If you wait, it may be too late.