October 11, 2011

Without Your Health, Life is not Life

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Whether discussing local or nationwide problems, there is often a tendency to look only to government for solutions. Many feel that federal policy changes are the only means to confront major societal issues. In doing so, they often overlook the practical solutions available at right here at home. For a case in point, look at the ongoing debate about healthcare in Wisconsin.

Like the rest of America, Wisconsin’s healthcare expenses have skyrocketed in recent years.  In fact, our state’s healthcare spending has doubled in the past decade. As a nation, we spend more money on medical treatment than any other developed country in the world.  Yet, there are more than 45 million Americans currently without healthcare. The financial fallout from the millions of uninsured Americans shows up in every facet of our nation’s culture, including the rising bankruptcy landscape that has become our reality.

Some elements of the increasing costs are not necessarily bad. As citizens, we understand that quality care is not cheap.  We expect our doctors to be world-class, our facilities to be state of the art, and our research and development to be in the vanguard of the industry.  Because of those expectations, US hospitals and clinics provide the best care available and employ the most advanced technology on the market.  Therefore, I think most people, when faced with life-threatening illnesses or major diseases, do not mind these expenses.

With all that said, it is still hard for most people to fathom that this justifies the unthinkable costs of healthcare expenses. In fact, the more we peel back the layers of issue, we see there are dozens of factors contributing to escalating costs – like increased bureaucracy and greater liability for doctors and hospitals. Those are problems that the state can and, I think, should work to correct. They are systemic shortcomings that can really only be corrected through policy solutions.

Policy changes take time to implement, though, and they do not always have the effects intended. That has been especially true in healthcare, where major political reforms have been slow-moving and have suffered from a variety of drawbacks.

A more proven means of effectively tackling rising healthcare costs has been to promote changes in unhealthy personal behaviors. Government might be able to increase the cost of a pack of cigarettes, for instance, but it is still largely a personal choice whether or not to smoke. If government and family can work together to foster a culture dedicated to promoting healthy choices and preventive health care maintenance, they can have a much greater impact than either one could, alone.

That combined approach is especially important in dealing with Wisconsin’s issues surrounding obesity and obesity-related healthcare problems; both have been huge contributors to recent increases in medical costs. In 2010, the 63.6% of Wisconsin adults were overweight or obese. Worse still, a quarter of our high school-age teenagers are already overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, suggesting that the problem could get worse before it gets better.

Understanding that there are many causes for obesity, it is important that we address it from a number of angles. Government can play a valuable part in the process. It can create incentives for preventing and managing obesity; it can implement an agenda to promote healthy living; and it can make healthy choices more accessible and affordable to families that otherwise would not have the opportunity to make them. That can mean everything from promoting physical education at schools, offering incentives in employee insurance plans that emphasize preventative care.

These changes will not amount to much unless neighborhoods and families get involved too. It is up to parents to turn off the television and get moving, get walking, and get exercising! Parents can make sure kids get healthy meals each day. Communities can promote things like recreational sports and active lifestyles. And it is up to all of us to make sure we emphasize the benefits of healthy living – not just in what we say, but in what we do and how we act. Government does not make these choices; we do! As families, neighborhoods, communities and a nation, we can do this.

In that spirit, I would like to highlight an event happening next weekend. I have partnered with Greater New Birth Church for a “Healthy Women, Healthy Living” informational event to educate women in the community on a number of topics related to obesity. The event will take place at 10:00 a.m. at Greater New Birth Church, and it is free and open to the public. It will give community members the opportunity to learn about topics like preventing obesity (and the diseases associated with it such as hypertension and diabetes) resculpting your body after weight loss directly from health care professionals.

Our health is one of the most valuable things we can possess. Together, let’s take the steps towards a healthier lifestyle for ourselves and for our children.