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Health Care, Self Care

The ever-increasing cost of health care was certainly evident in past weeks as the Federal government and the Provincial governments promised to spend more dollars in an effort to shorten wait times and provide better health care for us all.
The ever-increasing cost of health care was certainly evident in past weeks as the Federal government and the Provincial governments promised to spend more dollars in an effort to shorten wait times and provide better health care for us all. There is no doubt that as our population increases, the cost of providing health care must match that growth. But there are a few voices crying in the wilderness that adding dollars should not be the only focus. They say we have to educate ourselves to be healthier and thus lower the demand on health services. A stitch in time saves nine philosophy.

About the same time as our politicians were holding the first open and then closed meetings to arrive at a dollar amount that the Feds would contribute, my Cycle Canada magazine arrived. In it an editor was decrying the high cost of motorcycle insurance to an insurance industry representative. When asked for a justification for the rising cost, the spokesman said ‘mandatory helmets’. He then said helmets caused higher health insurance costs.

I was as incredulous as the editor until the agent explained. It is not the cost of fixing a bike after an accident, but the health costs of repairing the rider or worse, the life-long care he or she will need if not fully recovered. In the bad old days before helmets were mandatory, the rep said, someone who was thrown from a motorcycle and landed on their head would die and that would be the end of the claims against the insurance policy.

Now, with everyone wearing a helmet, the person with head injuries is whisked to a hospital where doctors with all their modern techniques and tools can ‘save’ the rider even if it means spending the rest of their life in and out of institutions. It was much less expensive back in those days for the insurance company when riders died on the spot, hence the lower insurance costs. Now I am the last one to advocate leaving anyone lying in a ditch to expire if they a can be saved, especially if they have been riding a big green Honda.

The cost of my bike insurance is also directly related to my age. My age has nothing to do with riding skills and I’m certain many younger drivers have better reflexes than I, although I probably do not get myself into as many unrecoverable situations as I might have when I was younger. The fact is that if I, at age 65, crash and need hospitalization I will not be around as long (actuarially) as some twenty-two year old, hence my lower insurance costs.

Riding a motorcycle is my choice and hopefully I will never be a drain on the health care system because of it. Then last week Maclean’s magazine arrived with a supplement on Diabetes. It seems that there are many things one can do to avoid this most debilitating disease and most of them have to do with choice. Unlike mandatory helmets, what we eat is left entirely to our choice. But the consequences can be much more severe.

A good diet coupled with exercise is the first defence, not only against diabetes, but against most of what ails us and drives us into the health care system. There are other stupid things we can do like smoking and drinking too much, but the basics of looking after ourselves ought to be the first concern in our health system. The best way to reduce waiting times at the hospitals is to have fewer people in line.

In today’s fast-paced world we do not take time to eat properly, relying on fast foods or quick hits of sugar, caffeine and fats to keep us going. Too many young ladies drag on cigarettes to kill appetites instead of burning off some calories with exercise. The promise of cancer or other smoking related ailments is wasted on them, partly because they think a pill or two will be able to fix whatever problem pops up later in life. Science or the doctors will save them. Just like a helmet will save lives, but in the end will cost all of us more.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, we have freedom of choice and if we make bad choices then we pay the consequences. Except that some are beginning to object to paying for bad choices made by others. We need to be educated to be able to make the right choices, but if we then choose to ignore what we know, should society foot the bill for the wrong decisions?

If a drunken driver ends up in hospital or long-term care, should we all pay for the choice to drive under the influence? Sorry, I forgot, alcoholism can be a disease. Well, how about smokers who get cancer? Sorry, that’s an addiction. Over-weight people who ate too many donuts, burgers and fries? Sorry, I forgot, that is probably genetic. I guess as long as we have a caring society, these bad choices are just going to be the health care costs we must bear.

The answer does not lie in suing the cigarette company or the golden arches in the hope that they will go out of business. The answer lies in education, and the education system. School boards and teachers have been so busy arguing over prep time and after-hours activities that they no longer are concerned with physical education. For a time it seemed as if educators had forgotten about the 3 R’s but that appears to be coming back into vogue. What I wonder is why they have forgotten the 4th R – Running.

We no longer expect children to walk more than a couple of blocks to school so I guess learning to walk before learning to run is part of the problem. We ride everywhere – and take our kids along with us in the car. We stop at drive-ins and load ourselves up with poor food choices and then ferry ourselves back to the house for couch or computer time. There is not much chance the parents who have fallen into this harmful routine are going to educate their children to the benefits of exercise and proper eating, so the education is left to our teachers in the primary grades.

The current crop of old age folks who are draining dollars from our health care system grew up in an era of some exercise and better diet so are not requiring as much care as the coming generations. The baby boomers, not only by their numbers, but their general health will be a bigger drain. I don’t want to even consider the cost of ageing in the following generations. Our health care system is like the motorcycle insurance – at first blush it looks like it’s the old folks who are costing the system, but in reality, it is the younger ones who are setting the rates.

Perhaps some of our billions that Martin is going to return to us over the next four or five years ought to be re-directed to the education system. Physical and health education in primary schools ought to be as mandatory as the motorcycle helmets. Unless we learn to take better care of ourselves we are going to have to build bigger waiting rooms in hospitals.

I wonder how many more emergency room seats they planned for in the new Regional Hospital.



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Bill Walton

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