As the health care reform debate rages, there are plenty of people who are advocating personal responsibility as the solution. In theory – and for my own health – I agree with them. I am an unabashed health nut, growing sprouts in my cupboard, blending kale into smoothies, exercising… I truly enjoy the sort of things that tend to lead to good health.
But how do we translate that into practice for an entire country? It’s hard to force people to eat better or exercise more. Some lawmakers are trying, but by and large, it’s still up to each of us to decide what we eat, how much we move, whether we smoke, etc. Colorado is among a growing list of states that has banned smoking in or around most public buildings, but people still have to choose whether or not they will smoke in their own homes.
Yes, we can tax cigarettes, soda, and trans fats, but that tends to put an additional financial burden on people who can least afford it. We can tell people they shouldn’t be smoking or eating potato chips – but most people already know that. Putting the knowledge into practice is where the going gets tough. And just as we’ve seen the lobbying power of the health care industry at work this summer, the junk food and tobacco industries have some pretty strong lobbies too.
I agree wholeheartedly that we need to focus on prevention of illness and personal responsibility in health care. But these do not take the place of a good health insurance policy. My father was stricken with Wegener’s Granulomatosis at age 54, and the rare autoimmune disease caused permanent kidney failure – despite a lifetime of excellent health habits. His medical bills over the last several years have been huge; if my parents had been uninsured, they would have been bankrupted.
So while we need to do a much better job of stressing personal responsibility in health care, we also need to make sure that everyone has access to quality health care when it’s truly needed, and a good catastrophic health insurance policy that will kick in when the unexpected happens. The health care problems that we’re facing aren’t going to be solved by government alone, but they also aren’t going to be solved without any government action at all.