Real health care reform

| Forum Editor

I’ve supported health care reform for the duration of its time in the political limelight. I realize Americans are divided, but I’d challenge anyone who suggests no changes are needed to the U.S. health care system. Insurance costs are too high and insurance practices too ruthless to go unchallenged.

That being said, some major changes to the current proposals are needed, particularly when it comes to Americans’ attitudes toward health. Health care reform needs to include serious efforts to educate Americans and to reduce unhealthy behaviors. Insurance costs are high because people are unhealthy. My mother is a pediatric anesthesiologist, and some kids she puts to sleep are in the hospital to have their teeth cleaned. They don’t want to brush their teeth, and their parents don’t want to get a 50-cent toothbrush and make them, so their teeth rot away until a hospital visit is necessary.

Though that problem is anecdotal, it’s real—and so are other common issues. Obesity is an epidemic in the U.S., which isn’t surprising when a bag of potato chips is cheaper than a bag of carrots. The National Institutes of Health says fewer than one-third of American adults are at a healthy weight. Since when has it been atypical to be healthy? Americans eat too much of the wrong kinds of food, such as pizza and doughnuts. As great as the need is for cheaper prescription drugs, so is the need to teach individuals what wholesome foods are and how to cook them. We need tax breaks for gym memberships and for major improvements to the public-school lunch program.

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I also support reducing tobacco consumption through educational programs and higher prices, or even a total ban. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly nine out of 10 cases of lung cancer are directly attributable to tobacco smoke, and tobacco boosts the prevalence of many other cancers. In 2002, the U.S. spent $76 billion in health care costs related to tobacco. I recognize concerns about personal liberties, but it would be expensive and idiotic to let this continue.

I admit I’m wishing for a lot of change in a short time, but we can’t sit back and ignore big problems until they become really big. Major corporations have lots of power to resist, so education needs to be a priority. I believe teaching healthier eating practices and supporting smoking-cessation programs will go a long way. I believe emphasis on habits as simple as daily exercise and brushing your teeth at least twice a day will make a big difference.

The current health care reform proposals contain a number of good features, including a ban on the denial of insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Still, a focus on healthy behaviors and health education will do more to improve health care in this country. Prevention should be the ultimate goal so that costs remain low and well-being high. These measures would create a healthier America; these measures would be real health care reform.

Cyrus is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at cfbahras@wustl.edu.