Doing better, being better


By Frank Wessling

The health insurance reform adopted in federal law last month was needed. Why? Because too many Americans fear they can’t get medical care when it’s needed, or the care will ruin them financially, or their only recourse is a hospital emergency room. The new legislation begins to move this country away from such fear and closer to a system of universal insurance coverage.

If the goal is to protect the dignity of every person in our society, we’re getting there. We still leave undocumented immigrants in limbo, a problem with more knots than our fractured politics can untie at this time. But the elements of very important reform are in place.

We can’t relax about everything because cost problems will persist. The new rules are intended to allocate health care costs more equitably but overall spending on medical care in this country is expected to keep rising. One reason for this is the generally unhealthy lifestyle we’ve adopted. Consider:

Most of us eat too much. We eat from fast food dispensaries and restaurants too much. We eat too little fresh vegetables and fruit.


Most of us move too little. We spend too much time sitting and too little walking. Rather than walk or run a mile to get a loaf of bread we get in a car and drive. Rather than join a soccer game in a park we play video games or watch other people play games on television. Rather than push a lawnmower, or even just walk behind one, we sit on a riding mower.

Most of us are too busy. We don’t know how to be still. We move in a public atmosphere that bombards us with appeals for attention. We keep ourselves distracted from any inner life. We are told to be connected all the time, but the connections generally are superficial. There is no encouragement and no time to be alone and allow a wholesome spirit of contemplation to develop.

Solitude is essential for a healthy spirit, which supports a healthy lifestyle. We confuse solitude and loneliness, though they are very different. We have so little experience with the former that we don’t even know what we’re missing. It’s no wonder that hypertension plagues us.

Each of these bad habits in the general American lifestyle contributes to the unhealth that costs us so much.

Health insurance companies are beginning to see value in programs to encourage healthier living. Just last week, United Health Group, a giant insurer, announced a project with retail pharmacies and the YMCA to help people at special risk for diabetes learn to eat better and exercise. Government programs pushing healthier eating in school settings also help.

But the biggest boost for healthy living — and less need for medical care — could come from thoughtful citizens.

If each of us took one less unnecessary spoonful at dinner, spent one less hour slouching at attention to a TV show, walked one more mile a week, spent just five minutes in quiet prayer morning and night, every kind of bottom line would improve.

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