By: Toby Cosgrove, MD
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Our nation faces two grave challenges: the federal deficit and the rising cost of healthcare. I would like to suggest that both of these challenges can be addressed by a single transformation. I truly believe that if we can get our nation healthy, we can save a lot of money and a lot of lives.
This is not an easy task, but one that we, as a team, need to address. Government, healthcare organizations, food vendors, schools and parents all need to work together to create a healthier America.
Here are some sobering statistics:
- Healthcare costs make up almost 25 percent of the federal budget.
- 60 percent of healthcare costs arise from chronic diseases: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, pulmonary disease and certain cancers. These conditions are almost entirely preventable.
- Some 35 percent of people over the age of 20 are obese, and the problem is getting worse.
More than one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. In the future, many of these children will suffer from a chronic disease. Who is going to care for this avalanche of new disease? Who will pay for it?
The Affordable Care Act of 2008 gives millions of people better access to sick care but does very little to promote or develop wellness behaviors.
The truth is, healthcare reform begins with us, our choices, and whether or not we smoke, eat a healthy diet and exercise. The role of healthcare reform should be to provide incentives for us to lead healthier lifestyles.
Incentives that work
We’ve been modeling wellness incentives at Cleveland Clinic. Members of our employee health plan can save money by improving their behaviors.
Cleveland Clinic has proven that incentives work. Over the past four years, our employees have lost more than 330,000 pounds. Hundreds have quit smoking. Our gyms, cooking classes and yoga sessions are packed. We’ve saved $15 million in employee healthcare costs. Best of all, we have a happier, more engaged workforce.
A ‘culture of wellness’
The state of our nation is only as good as the state of our health. We can’t control the deficit without controlling healthcare costs. We can’t control healthcare costs until we can control ourselves. Individuals, families, employers and the government (the biggest employer of them all) need to promote a culture of wellness and provide incentives to promote healthy behaviors.
This will reduce the cost of care and lower the deficit. Best of all, it will preserve millions of Americans from long-illnesses and early death.