Exercise or surgery?

This article was published in The West End Times August 6, 2011.

Do we spend too much time worrying that our health care system will become like the American system? Are we under the illusion that we have a system that is better? Do we think that we can ride the tide and things will improve by magic? For how long will we blame the rising health care costs on the “Ageing Population”? Let’s wake up and place the BLAME where it belongs…..on poor health! Take a look at the dollars spent per capital on health care in Canada ($4079.00) and the USA ($7538.00). The much dreaded USA system spends significantly more per capita than we do in Canada. Although Canada’s health care system is typically seen as publicly funded, private sector expenditure constitutes a sizable share of total health care spending. In 2009 for example, the private sector picked up some 29.8% of the total health care charge; a share that has stood unchanged for most of the past decade. Canada’s reliance on private sector funding is high compared with other developed countries. In 2008, the share of Canada’s private sector in total health care spending was 7th highest among 26 countries. In the G7 countries, Canada is second only to the U.S. when it comes to participation of the private sector in health care spending. The burden of private health care spending is somewhat evenly shared by households and private insurers with households’ out-of-pocket payments contributing 14.8% and private insurance programs picking up another 12.8% of the total health care bill in Canada.

It is only because we think that Canadian Health Care is free that we continue to accept “same OLD, same OLD” and believe that our way is better. I am not, for a minute advocating a system that leaves so many uninsured and helpless. I am only talking about the overall cost of Health Care and would like to dispel the myth that we have no private health care.

Forced by soaring health care cost increases, many American companies are beginning to invest more in “Wellness.” Should we wait for the total collapse of our system to start to look at wellness and prevention?

Just look at the cost related to surgeries like hips and knees. If we invested in fitness programs for weight loss, we would need less surgery for knees and hips based on the relationship between weight, hip and knee replacements cited by CIHI.

When it comes to exercise, we can find all kinds of excuses….the kids need us, or the nearest gym is too far, we just have no energy, we are too busy at work… As the American health care premiums continue to rise, more and more companies are offering programs to target wellness in the workplace, with the reasoning that healthier, happier employees are more productive, take fewer sick days and cost less to insure. Nearly three-quarters of companies that provided health benefits last year also offered some sort of wellness program, up from 57 percent in 2009, according to an annual report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Programs include on-site fitness centers, weight-loss and smoking cessation initiatives and personal fitness trainers.

AT&T, which has several fitness centers across the country, recently launched an online forum where employees can seek advice from nurses and build personalized fitness plans.

But exactly how much do wellness programs really help a company’s bottom line? Quite a bit, as it turns out. For every dollar a business spends on wellness programs, it saves $3.27 in medical costs and $2.73 in absenteeism costs, according to a recent study by three Harvard University researchers. The day we realize that this might work here in Canada, we might be forced to follow the American way. This would not only decrease health care costs but, lo and behold, we might even have the bonus of healthier Canadians, and there will be no excuses.