Tag Archives: health care reform bill

Why Salads Cost More than Big Macs

One of the major issues facing health care today is the cost which Americans must pay in order to obtain basic care.  Then the care they receive does nothing to address the problem they actually have.  For example, if a person walks into their doctor’s office with high cholesterol, they are almost always giving a statin medication to artificially lower their cholesterol.  The reason their cholesterol is high is not because of a statin deficiency.  It’s because of poor diet and lack of exercise.  Those causes, sadly, are hardly ever addressed.

The cost of this type of health care, according to some experts, is going to bankrupt this country if things are not changed and changed soon.  I have written many times about prevention and how that is the true key to reducing overall health costs in this country.  I absolutely believe that is true.  However, what if our government spent money a little differently in the mean time to reduce the cost of healthy foods?  Maybe that would put a dent in our rising obesity epidemic?

I can’t tell you how many people tell me that it’s just too darn expensive to eat healthy.  While I believe some people like to use that as a convenient excuse not to eat correctly, I believe most people have a hard time affording some healthy foods.  Just the other day I was at a local farmer’s market and one 3 oz. bag of shelled walnuts was $6!  A $6 snack? And a small one at that!

Often times fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds are among the most expensive items at the grocery store.  The cheap stuff includes low grades or less desirable cuts of  meat, dairy and all grain products.  Want to know why?  Below is a graphic of what our government chooses to subsidize and in what percentage of the whole. (Original article can be found here.)

Subsidized America

Of course lobbying plays a major role in what gets subsidized, but that doesn’t change the above graphic.  You’ll notice that vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes are subsidized the least while the meat, dairy and grain industry make out like bandits.

Meat is an essential part of our diets.  We need animal protein.  It is the only complete source of protein.  It also contains healthy fats that are vital to survival.  When consumed properly is the absence of abundant carbohydrate, it is perfectly healthy.  Do not let mainstream medicine talk you into being a vegetarian.  Eliminating meat is a big mistake. That being said, their piece of the pie should not be so significantly higher than the other important part of our diet – fruits, veggies and nuts and seeds.

The grain industry gets the second largest chunk.  The current government recommendations on the right in the diagram above more than make up for the lack of subsidy.  Our government recommends that everyone eat 11 servings of grains per day.  And where has this gotten us?  It has lead us straight into an obesity epidemic.  It’s the carbohydrate consumption that is out of control in this country.  If people were eating too much high quality meat, I doubt we’d see the problems we are seeing today.

McDonald’s, whose product’s success relies mostly of meat and refined grain, are okay with the current subsidization I am sure.  Let’s face it, when you buy a Big Mac for $.99 you aren’t buying it for the iceberg lettuce or the soft tomato they put on it.

At the very top of the subsidy pyramid are vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes.  They account for just 2.28% of government subsidy.  They get less money than sugar and alcohol do.  See a problem with that?  However, does this translate to higher prices you ask?  Check out the diagram below.

The cost of fresh fruit and vegetables has clearly gone up while most other foods have remained the same or decreased.

This illustrates very well just how much subsidizing food products can have an effect on price.  While fruits and vegetables have increased in price, soda has plummeted.  This is a major issue, especially considering that soda is a major contributor to preventable disease in the United States.

With this knowledge it is easy to see that a salad could easily cost just as much if not more than a whole meal at McDonald’s.  The soda, burger and bun all get larger subsidies than the salad that you didn’t buy.

Health care cost are at an all time high and the complexities of the problem are astounding.  I think the above is also a large part of the problem.  While senators and congressmen are elected to impart the will of the people, they rarely do.  In order to get elected it takes a lot of money.  Big business has a lot of money.  Put 2 and 2 together.  Special interest groups control political action (or lack thereof) and people suffer with expensive salads and cheap Big Macs.

My advice?  While good food might be more expensive to eat, it’s worth it in the end.  You might get away with eating a poor diet for years and years while your young, but it catches up with us as we age.  Don’t short change yourself in terms of your diet.  It only ends up costing you more in the end.

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Taking Responsibility for your Health

The debate over health care will continue to rage.  The fact that health care reform has passed will not end the debate.  Many Americans, myself included, believe that people who make poor decisions for their overall health should pay more for their health care.  If you choose to eat one meal per day at McDonald’s, don’t expect me to pay for your health care. 

The notion that providing more people with insurance will reduce health costs in this country is a ridiculous one. The problem of sky rocketing health care costs is not one of lack of insurance.  It is there because too many people make the wrong decisions about how to live their lives.  They choose not to eat healthy, not to exercise and not to supplement their diets with missing nutrients.  Those people we will call “omitters.” They omit something from their life (like healthy food and exercise) that causes them to be less healthy.  Then there are people who actually contribute to their own demise.  They smoke or drink alcohol excessively for example.  Those people we will call “destructors.”  There are many people that fit into these categories and most people are a combination of omitters and destructors.

I can already hear the complaints while some of you are reading this.  You are saying, “But it is much more complicated than that…!”  There are other factors that play into it including socioeconomic status, income level, education level, etc.  While I believe that to be true, I only believe it to a certain point.  The vast majority of people, regardless of income level know that smoking is bad for you, yet they continue to smoke.  The vast majority of people know that excessive alcohol consumption is bad for you.  The vast majority of people know that exercise is good for you.  I don’t care what income level people have or what education level people have, these are known facts that most choose to ignore.

A perfect example

I was giving a lecture to a large group of people.  It was about diet and health and how to improve your own health with simple diet and exercise.  After the lecture a woman came up to me and told me how much she enjoyed the lecture and that she’d learned a lot.  She also said that she’d love to come in a see me as a patient, but couldn’t possibly afford it.  All of her money was accounted for and there was no extra room in the budget.  As I spoke with her I noticed that she smoked.  I asked her about it and asked how many packs per day she was smoking.  She told me about a pack.  She also told me that her husband smoked about a pack and a half per day.  I told her that I would certainly recommend that she and her husband stop smoking and if she did that there would be more than enough money in the budget to cover my services.  She agreed, but said “her husband” would be unwilling to stop leaving her without enough to cover my services.  This was a classic example of not taking responsibility for her own health.  She did not want to quit smoking, in my opinion, and was sure her husband would not either.  If she was truly concerned about her health and wanted expert guidance she would have quit and saved the money and been able to afford my services to help her to better health.  I have broken down just how much they would have saved if they’d quit smoking.  It is staggering.

Depending on your location, a pack of cigarettes costs between $4.50 and $5.  Let’s take the middle and use $4.75 to calculate our numbers.

The wife’s yearly costs in cigarettes = $1733.75

The husband’s yearly cost in cigarettes = $2600.63

TOTAL COST is $4334.38 per year!

They would save more than $360 per month if they both quit smoking.

Unfortunately, this woman never came in as a patient in my office.  It’s too bad because we could have done wonders in terms of improving her health and overall quality of life.  She is a classic destructor.  She added something into her life that will shorten her lifespan and decrease its overall quality.

Another reason people claim they can’t stay healthy is because they can’t afford a membership to a gym.  That’s a very poor excuse.  You don’t need to go to a gym to exercise.  If you have access to the outside, you can exercise.  Walk, run, skip, do anything.  Just be active.  There are also unlimited amounts of body weight exercises that one can do in their home.  Simple examples include push-ups, lunges, jumping jacks and core training.  These are all easily done inside with no equipment.

So, if you’re reading this and you aren’t healthy, which one are you – an omitter or destructor?  Are you a little of both?  The first step is recognizing that you are doing something incorrect in your lifestyle that is possibly causing you to be unhealthy.  You may say that it only affects you, but it doesn’t.  Over time it causes a drain on funds in the health care industry and forces everyone else to pay more in taxes.  If everyone stayed active and ate right, health care costs in this country would plummet and we wouldn’t need to argue about it any longer.  Will this prevent every disease?  No.  Will it go a long way?  Absolutely.

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My Take on “Health Care” Reform…

In light of the recent health reform bill that passed the legislative branch of the government and that President Obama has signed into law today, I thought I would take a closer look and see who will actually benefit from this historic piece of legislation.

This health reform does little to change the actual problems with health care in the United States.  This bill will not make us any healthier.  It may insure more people, but having health insurance does not make you healthy.  As a matter of fact, one could argue that people without health insurance are the ones who watch their health more closely so they can avoid the large doctors bills that might accrue should something happen.

The reason Americans are so unhealthy has nothing to do with insurance coverage.  It has everything to do with lifestyle choices.  You can’t drive through many towns in the country and not see at least 3 or 4 different fast food chain restaurants.  They provide a service that people love – quick, easy good tasting meals.  Some argue that they actually taste good, but you can’t argue with results.  Check out these numbers:

McDonald’s claims to have served over 99 billion people.  It’s right on their signs.  Some have changed to say “billions and billions served” to reflect the even higher numbers suggesting it is now too high to count.  I tend to agree, it is probably too high to count.  But let’s take the 99 billion as our number.  We can safely assume the number is at least that high in the United States alone because we are “rounding down” to put it plainly.  If we consider that McDonald’s started in 1948 with the process we would recognize as fast food, that means they’ve served 4,374,723 meals per day to reach 99 billion served in the last 62 years. No wonder America has a health problem.  This just McDonald’s.  This doesn’t take into account Pizza Hut, Burger King, Wendy’s, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, KFC or any other fast food chain!

Big Pharma Wins Again (Ugh…)

It is clear that our problems go far beyond a lack of health insurance coverage in this country.  Another part of the problem is our thought process when it comes to health and being sick.  When most people get sick (or have an ache or pain, etc…) their first thought is, “What pill can I take to get better.”  There’s nothing wrong with taking an antibiotic if you have a raging bacterial infection or taking a life saving drug if it indeed is life saving.  These cases, however, are the vast minority of cases!  Drugs are over prescribed and the benefits over sold while natural and more cost effective treatments are available. They aren’t marketed like pharmaceuticals and aren’t patentable like pharmaceuticals so they aren’t recognized as well. 

The pharmaceutical lobby had a lot of work ahead of itself when the talk of health care reform began.  They eventually got behind the reform and supported it wholeheartedly.  And now we know why.  They made out like bandits in this reform!

Initially, price control on pharmaceuticals was discussed.  This was a huge point of contention for the pharmaceutical industry.  Once this was eliminated support for the reform bill was gained.  As evidence the industry spent an estimated $100 million in TV advertising, grass-roots organizing and other marketing efforts to promote reform.  Many people will point to the concessions the industry agreed too.  They agreed to contribute $85 billion toward the cost of the bill in the form of industry fees and lower prices paid under government programs over 10 years.  While $85 billion certainly is a lot of money, it pales in comparison to industry revenue.  Take this into consideration – the top 12 pharmaceutical companies had a combined revenue of $237.7 billion in 2006 alone (the most recent year for which I could find statistics)!  When you consider that the $85 billion is spread out over 10 years you realize it really is just a small drop in the bucket for them.  Consider that the hospitals agreed to a much higher number of $155 billion over the next 10 years mainly by accepting lower fees through medicare.

What you must also realize is that the pharmaceutical industry sees this as a way to gain another 32 million costumers.  These are the individuals who are currently uninsured and who do not take prescriptions, see the doctor or get surgery unless they absolutely have to.  Big Pharma sees them as an untapped resource.  No longer will these people leave prescriptions unfilled or forgo their Lipitor because it is too expensive.  The pharmaceutical industry will more than make up for the $85 billion in revenues with sales of more drugs from more insured people.

This legislation, while historic and idealistic, will do little to curb the ridiculous health care costs in this country.  This is for two reasons.  First, the bill does nothing to actually change health care.  We are in this situation because we view health and health care backwards.  People get procedures and drugs paid for once they are already sick.  It should be just the opposite.  Pay to prevent illness.  Insurance companies should be paying people to go to the gym and paying for office visits to nutritionists in the same way they pay for an office visit to your primary care.  Secondly, the bill did nothing to change the price of pharmaceuticals.  These prices are artificially inflated and insurance companies still pay it.  This is a huge burden on the finances of this country.

Hopefully I’m wrong and this significantly improves the health care industry in this country, but the major problems were not addressed.  I am sorry to say that in 10 years I think we’ll still be in the same boat.

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Filed under Big Pharma, Diet, Public Health