Let me preface this post by saying I’m not a Health Care Economy Expert and I do prefer to stay in my lane for the most part when it comes to discussions regarding health and wellness. That being said, something is happening in this country that needs to be brought to people’s attention, now, or better yet, 25 years ago. Since we can’t go back in time, I guess we should probably just acknowledge right now, that this country is establishing a terrible trend; we are living longer. I know what you’re thinking, “why the hell is that a bad thing?” It’s not that we’re living longer necessarily, but in what physical state we’re in during those extra years.
Life expectancy is defined simply as the measure of time that a person is expected to live, and it can vary greatly when considering certain demographics such as ethnicity, quality of health care, and environmental risk factors. Years ago, the WHO (World Organization of Health) developed a different measure of life expectancy, one that adjusted for time spent living in less than healthy conditions: Health Adjusted Life Expectancy (HALE). For example, someone with a life expectancy of 80, but a HALE of 65, will live 15 years in less than “healthy conditions”, suffering from any number of metabolic diseases or disabilities. Generally speaking, we can presume that years spent living with preventable metabolic diseases will be more expensive, and also less productive than years living in healthy conditions. These years will be expensive for not only the person carrying the disease, but for the health care system providing medicine, surgeries, and other interventions to help extend life.
These two numbers, life expectancy, and HALE, should have a relatively linear relationship, meaning that as life expectancy grows, so does the HALE at nearly the same rate. As the prevalence of preventable diseases increases, the burden on this country’s health care economy also increases. With these increases in relatively preventable diseases (there are exceptions due to genetic predisposition), there is a great deal of money to be made keeping the deadly effects at bay. With the amazing advances in modern medicine, you are now better equipped to manage diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, and live far longer. These advances, combined with our country’s inability to reverse the trend of a growing prevalence of metabolic disease leads to more people living longer, but less healthy. Not only has the HALE increase slowed dramatically over the last 20 years, but it is even trending the opposite direction of general life expectancy.
“Countries are facing a coming wave of financial and social costs from the rising number of people living with diseases and injuries. The net effect on health care costs depends on the balance of costs associated with conditions such as diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, mental and behavioral disorders and other leading contributors to disability, versus the costs of medical care.”
Part of the Problem, or Solution?
This topic is probably way over my head as far as the amount of socioeconomic factors that go into to developing such a measure, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand that this is a huge deal. Maybe not right now, but in 10-20 years, the effects of this phenomenon will surely be felt. I’m not quite sure what needs to be addressed first, but I do know that people need to be educated on the matter to better help themselves. This topic isn’t sexy, but you know what is sexy? Life, healthy life for that matter, is extremely sexy, or at least it should be. I don’t mean to come across cold, because several people I love and care about, live with a metabolic disease, and sometimes they aren’t preventable. Until this trend is reversed, we will continue to depend on the insurance premiums of the healthy to support an ever-growing frequency of people developing early onset metabolic disease. Something has to give though, right? Go for a walk, encourage your friend to eat a salad with you, give someone a high-five when you jog past them, do something, anything, to help contribute. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.