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Gary Horton: Engorged on medical insurance in Fat City

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: August 11, 2009 4:19 p.m.
Updated: August 12, 2009 2:55 a.m.

"I'm busy, doc," deflecting my doctor's scolding for missing my annual checkup for three years.

I'm also 20 pounds overweight, and I've feared the day when my skinny doctor would clobber me about shaping up.

Yeah, I've kinda tried to lose the weight, but between the breakfast scones at Starbucks, wine with dinner and too many business lunches, the weight hasn't budged much - despite reasonable attempts at exercise.

Besides, I've always thought, "medical problems don't happen to me" - until today.

First up was the blood pressure test. Uh, oh. 150 over 100. Not good. Doc reminds me I'm in a high-stress business, running a high-stress life and blood pressure numbers like this can unexpectedly trigger a heart attack or stroke - even for an otherwise healthy 53-year-old.

"High blood pressure," doc said, "is the no.-1 preventable cause of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and early death. And you're borderline and getting worse."

Doc hands me a carton of free blood pressure pills. But I tell him, "Look, I don't want to be one of those guys who takes baggies of pills each day, and one pill makes me smaller and one pill makes me large - and one that someone leaves me drooling or dead from the unintended effects of "modern medicine."

Doc responds, "You can eventually stop taking the blood pressure pills, but it's going to cost you that 20 pounds of fat you're carrying around and all the excess salt you've been gobbling up. See me when you're under 175 pounds and I bet your blood pressure will be back under control."

"It's a deal, Doc." And this time, I'm really committed to losing the weight. The vision of starting down the road to daily medication at age 53 is alarming. So, "bye bye, burgers and fries, adios chips and salsa, auf Wiedersehen, bratwurst!"

Now it's, "Hello, salmon and salad and daily exercise."

Motivational guru Zig Ziglar likes to tell about how he went from a "fat boy" 42-inch waistline to a fit 50-year-old in better shape than 98 percent of the college kids in the country. Even at age 60, Ziglar had a resting heart rate of 41 and could run for hours on end.

When he first got started on his fitness program he lamented about the "cost of getting healthy," his "sacrifice" of waking early to run and of forsaking fatty foods. At the start, he saw healthy living as a cost to his sedentary lifestyle.

But one day, running past hundreds of students at the Oregon State quad, lean and fit Ziglar realized his good health wasn't a cost at all.

Now, at age 60, Ziglar could do things he never imagined at 25. Ziglar reasoned that suffering ill health and tolerating the limitations of poor fitness would have been the real cost and the real loss. The investment to get healthy for Ziglar wasn't a sacrifice. Being able to run like a teenager was a huge benefit and it invigorated the rest of his life.

Today, America is engorged in a giant health care debate. How much medical stuff can we get and at what price? While choking on costs, we illogically still don't want anyone telling us we're too unfit, or too fat, for some procedure or for insurance itself. "No rationing," is the call to arms.

We've unwisely fixated on accessing unlimited, unconditional medical procedures rather than focusing on creating good health itself.

There's a difference, because achieving good health first brings medical costs down before they ever rise.

They say Europeans have better medical care that costs less than the U.S. and they live longer, healthier lives. But also they eat less and are thinner than HumVee-type Americans. Locally, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital CEO Roger Seaver says that in 15 years, obesity-related disease will bankrupt America's medical system.

Missing from America's health care debate is the common sense part. In a nation where 50 percent of us are overweight and some 15 percent are destined for diabetes, where's our personal accountability to ourselves and to others for our own health?

Where's our obligation to live healthy lives so as to limit our own expense on the community system - be it public or private?

My doctor gave me a scolding, and I'm changing. A national scolding and weight intervention plan should be part of any new health care system. Because, more than any other "capitated medical procedure," reducing health care costs starts with what we put in our own mouths.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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