Burning the Candle at Both Ends – Why Chronic Disease Prevention and Wellness need to be Job #1

In Executive Leadership, Healthcare, Published articles or white papers on October 22, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Published in National Healthcare Reform Magazine
October 2010

I recently attended a conference where, like many conferences around the United States, Healthcare Reform was the key topic. I was most impressed by Mika Brzezinski, from MSNBC’s Morning Joe show, and her passion regarding America’s Obesity issue. Our self indulgent lifestyle in the US has created many behavioral and lifestyle induced chronic conditions that dramatically affect the cost of healthcare and insurance in this country. As I listened to Mika speak, it made me think of many conversations that I have had with friends and peers regarding wellness and prevention. How does one define wellness and prevention? How does one create expectations for behaviors? How do you build a wellness program that rewards and creates incentives for individuals the take care of themselves? Since there are many opinions, it makes it difficult to establish a true definition of wellness, let alone define rewards, incentives and penalties required to make Wellness a clearly defined strategy to reduce Healthcare costs.

A McKinsey Quarterly report from June 2009 titled Why Understanding Medical Risk is Key to US Health Reform outlined several important points. These points included the shift in medical risk from random catastrophic events driven by things out our control, the misalignment of our current supply side fee-for-service incentives and the “lack of incentives for healthy behavior and overall long term health management”.

The four most common causes of chronic disease are: lack of physical activity, poor eating habits, smoking and alcohol consumption. Statistics show these are the main causes of death and poor health. These causes are preventable and can be modified through lifestyle changes. Obesity alone costs the nation a total of $139 billion in direct and indirect cost per year. These stats alone are staggering but when coupled with the projected and uncontrollable end-of-life costs of the current baby boom generation, it tells us that dramatic change needs to occur in how we incent Wellness and individuals who refrain from these damaging lifestyle choices. This change will not happen without an “intervention” from all segments of our society, including healthcare, education, churches, government, and business. I am often amazed at the transformation of people’s lives on the show “The Biggest Loser” – the goal is clearly defined, the “weigh-ins” include incentives and penalties – the expectations are clear to all. Wellness, to be successful in this country, will need the same model: well-defined outcomes, measurements of success, rewards and penalties, and clear expectations.

The rising costs of healthcare, even with current reform measures, are NOT sustainable. With the aging of America, we cannot afford to have the uncontrollable end-of-life medical expense, coupled with chronic disease lifestyle conditions of younger Americans, adding to the burden that will soon face our overwhelmed healthcare system.


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