Personal choices are key to needed health care reform

October 22, 2010 

To better understand this entrenched debate on health care reform, who better to ask than the people on the front lines who treat our ailments - doctors.

I asked one of my college roommates, who is a resident at the University of Washington Medical Center, what his take on health care reform is.

He just asked me a question: “Is it right that a 25-year-old dies from an easily treatable condition, or an infant has a broken foot and can’t get it treated all because he and the infant’s family can’t afford health insurance?”

It was a pretty simple question, but makes its point and is difficult to disagree with.

On the other side of the coin, I’ve read an op-ed piece in the Jackson Mississippi Clarion Ledger by Starner Jones, an emergency room doctor. He describes an incident on one of his shifts where a particular patient adorned with several elaborate tattoos and a brand new cell phone says that she smokes a pack of cigarettes a day yet is unable to pay for health insurance. Her payment status on her chart was “Medicaid.”

“Our nation’s health care crisis is not a shortage of quality hospitals, doctors or nurses,” Jones wrote. “It is a crisis of culture — culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on vices while refusing to take care of one’s self or, heaven forbid, purchase health insurance.”

Although this is a rather large sweeping statement based on one specific incident, he makes a valid point. Before we can even talk about health care reform, we must first look at American culture and realize that we need to undergo a drastic change on our concept of health.

Universal health care has the noblest of intentions in providing care to everyone whether they can afford it or not. But it’s just not going to be cost effective when people don’t take care of their own health from preventable conditions.

It also starts with our children. These days, you don’t see many kids playing sports outside, or even being outside for that matter, but rather, they are playing with the latest apps on their iPhones or playing Halo on Xbox live. This is detrimental to their health and social skills. The end of the sandlot days is nearly upon us or may have already arrived. Our childhood obesity rate has reached unprecedented levels.

My only qualm with universal health care begins with a question: “Is it right for someone who exercises five days a week, eats right, doesn’t drink or smoke to pay the same health insurance premium or pay taxes in universal health care for someone who can afford to chain smoke, eat out, drink a six-pack every other day yet can’t afford to pay for health insurance?”

Of course, this is an example of two extremes. But it illustrates the point that Jones was making about U.S. health care being an American cultural issue.

Unhealthy lifestyles receive little to no scrutiny but are detrimental when speaking about health care reform. In an ideal world, health care would be used for those with unpreventable conditions such as age, genetic conditions, etc. Health care reform cannot supplant the personal responsibility to care for ones self.

I’m not advocating a “no” vote for universal health care coverage. I’m saying that for it to work and be cost effective, we need to simply re-examine our life choices to decrease our hospital visits from costly preventable conditions.

During this tough economy, where many people cannot afford health insurance, universal health care is necessary to fulfill our basic ethical promise to help our fellow man, but we must first take personal responsibility in caring for our own bodies.

Chris Chau, a graduate of the University of Washington, is an assistant records officer with the Employment Security Department. A member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel, he can be reached at sideoutchau@gmail.com.

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