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The nation's health care crisis - just treating its symptons

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, January 30, 2006

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Chapel Hill, NC - Let’s give President Bush credit for turning attention to the nation’s health care problems in his State of the Union address—even if you do not agree with his proposals.

President Bush believes that the best way to control costs is to push responsibility down to the health care consumer. If patients pay for their medical care, they will look for reasonably priced choices.

But, just as we are trying to understand a complicated new “choice based” Medicare drug plan, we may have a hard time getting excited about the President’s complex set of choices of tax credits and health accounts.

The real tragedy of the President’s health care proposals—and the various plans of those who oppose his ideas—is that they ignore the country’s real health care crisis, which is this: The way we live and the way we eat is making more of us sicker and sicker.

A few weeks ago, I had supper with former state representative Jack Hunt and members of his family, including his daughter Judy, also a former legislator. One of their guests was Dr. John Buse, director of UNC Diabetes Care Center, and a nationally recognized expert on the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

At that time, The New York Times was running a series of articles on a diabetes epidemic that is sweeping parts of New York. Diet, the lack of exercise, and other environmental factors are unlocking people’s genetic predisposition toward diabetes at an alarming rate.

As a consequence of the onset of diabetes, these new victims will suffer countless expensive and debilitating health problems. Their suffering and the costs of treating them could, in most cases, be prevented or reduced, by changing their eating and living patterns.

Dr. Buse has said, “The great news is that with early detection and careful treatment, people can take control of their diabetes and live full lives without symptoms or complications.”

I asked why we (through our government) are not pushing harder to encourage these life style changes.

Judy Hunt, who had a long bout with diabetes herself, cautioned that blaming the victims was not a solution to the problem.

I agree with her. And I think our country’s people have a long history of resisting any effort for the government to tell us how to live our lives.

But we have made exceptions when people’s dangerous acts are life threatening. Motorcyclists have to wear helmets. Taking certain drugs is a crime. We are not allowed to drive a car without a license.

But we let people at risk for diabetes eat and smoke and “loaf” their way to a dangerous end, one that will usually involve great expense to the community.

So why not address that problem?

One state governor is.

Until a few years ago , Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, the subject of a recent column in the New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof, weighed almost 300 pounds. (Apparently he shared some fast food eating habits with a former Arkansas governor.)

When Huckabee learned that he had developed Type 2 diabetes, he dramatically changed his life style. Diets of salad and an exercise plan that included marathon races brought his weight down to 180 pounds

Another result: His diabetes is gone. Huckabee is a conservative Republican and not anxious to expand government. But, having learned personally how weight loss and exercise prevent disease, he has become an advocate for the government to do much more to promote healthy lifestyles.

He told Kristof, “…when I look at our state budget, and I see that every year our Medicaid budget is increasing by 9 to 10 percent, and I look at state employees' health plans and I see that those costs are escalating at double digits and twice the rate of inflation — as a fiscal manager, I have not only the right but frankly also the responsibility to see what can we do to improve this bottom-line cost.”

Until our leaders adopt the “Huckabee” approach, the debate about President Bush’s proposals is not about “finding a cure” to our health care crisis; it is just a discussion of how to “treat its symptoms.”


D.G. Martin is host of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. This week’s (February 5) guest is Duke Professor Henry Petroski, author of “Pushing the Limits,”

Upcoming NC Bookwatch programs, all at 5pm, Sundays on UNC-TV:
Feb 5 Henry Petroski Pushing the Limits
Feb 12 Bill Morris Saltwater Cowboys
Feb 19 Amy Tiemann Mojo Mom

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