Since one of the subjects that keeps coming up in health care reform is the idea of reducing health care costs, I found Jason Shafrin’s post in this week’s Cavalcade of Risk to be especially interesting. He cites a Duke University study that found exercise to be more effective than anti-depressants or an exercise + anti-depressant combination in terms of long term outcomes. Exercise can be free if you stick with something simple and skip the gym membership (a daily walk doesn’t cost anything), but anti-depressants are not cheap. A month’s supply of Zoloft runs about $150. For people with health insurance that covers brand name drugs, most of the cost of the medication is paid by the insurance carrier, which results in higher premiums for everyone as time goes by. Another effect of increasing prescription drug use is that many health insurance carriers (including just about all of the individual carriers in Colorado) have cut their prescription benefits over the last five years. Copays are higher, most plans have deductibles now before the copays kick in, and there are several plans that don’t cover brand name drugs at all.
Maybe if doctors and patients were all aware of the fact that exercise is more beneficial in the long term than anti-depressants, we could start to cut down on the number of anti-depressant prescriptions being written. Lower utilization of pharmaceutical products would be helpful in terms of limiting the overall cost of medical claims and thus the price of health insurance as time goes on. But I guess nobody is spending billions of dollars to let us know that we’ll feel like dancing with puppies in a field of daisies if we get out and exercise (although that might literally come true if your exercise of choice is a hike in a meadow).