Money and Health
Man surprised me most about humanity. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. – Dalai Lama
This simple observation is a frequent topic of discussion on the long walks the Grizzlies take around our neighborhood, and it’s a fitting end to our week-long look at healthcare.
Health is tied up in money, there is no way around this fact. Healthcare is expensive, and getting more expensive every year. In the US we have a particularly acute problem with healthcare costs. Healthcare as a % of GDP has increased from 5% in 1960 to over 17% today. With spending per capita increasing from $1000 to over $9000 in constant dollars. We spend a great deal keeping ourselves healthy.
However, all of this spending doesn’t seem to be buying us much. The US now easily tops the entire world in healthcare spending per capita. We spend more than double most of the other developed nations of the world. But as the US forges ever upward in spending on healthcare, we’ve moved sideways in the metrics that really matter: years of life, healthy children, freedom from chronic diseases.
Now some of this dominance in costs and failure in quality is tied up in structural problems within the US. There are MANY reforms on either side of the political spectrum that would change the system for the better. You would be hard pressed to design a system that would fair worse on these metrics than our current hodge-podge of government/private/free-market/over-regulated-system that we have today.
But the Grizzlies can never get past the belief that these results are tied up the quote at the top of this post. How often do we make choices in which we trade years of our lives, inches on our waist lines, and increased stress for a few extra dollars? And then how often do we turn around and spend those hard fraught gains on treatments, pills, and promises to correct the many problems caused by the crazy lifestyle we lead?
Health for Money
We’ve seen this in our own lives. I spent several years traveling for a big name consulting company. By the end, I was experiencing debilitating back pain on a regular basis. The consequence of a 6’4″ man trying to cram himself into an airline seat twice every single week. I tried multiple doctors and physical therapists. No luck. But as soon as I quit my consulting job the back problems cleared up.
And the damage is not confined to us. We see it almost all of our friends who work similar jobs, with similar hours and the same habits. I saw a good friend from college for the first time in several years. He had just landed a coveted position working for a big Private Equity shop. He is also about 60 lbs overweight, almost completely bald, and looks 15 years older than all of us now. He also complained about nearly constant migraine headaches and talked about the great doctor he sees to get them treated. I’m guessing the doctor will not be able to help him.
There is a partner at Mrs. Grizzly’s law firm that has grown increasingly fat every since she first met him a few years ago. He eats an almost exclusive diet of Chinese takeout. He’s now weighing in at a solid 400+lbs and can barely move from his office chair. He has a nice beard so we have simply started to refer to him as “The Walrus.” The Walrus has been diagnosed with high blood pressure (Shocking!) and is now on a steady regime of purple pills.
Another good friend had such a stressful job she decided that the best solution was to start on a prescription of Adderall to make sure she could ‘focus’. A dose of methamphetamine is always a good solution to life’s problems. One of many downsides to this plan was that she found she could no longer sleep. Solution? Start taking another prescription for Ambien. Problem solved!
There are a thousand other examples. People we know who have traded their health for their careers, for their ambitions. Well here is a shocking revelation – IT’S NOT WORTH IT! No amount of money is worth it. No prestige is worth it. No amount of power is worth it. And even with all the money in the world, you often cannot buy your health back. The solutions do not work because they don’t address the fundamental problems in your life.
A Better Way
Live your life, health will follow. – Grizzly Dad
There is a better way. A simpler way. No, I’m not going to advocate throwing out all Western Medicine. We still get baby bear vaccinated, and we’ll still take antibiotics if we get sick. But how much could we all improve our health if we all just slowed our lives down a bit? How many years of your life could you win back by shifting the focus of your life from your career to start focusing on your body and your spirit a bit more?
Take a long walk every night with your family. Take time in the mornings to go for a run or lift weights. Make wonderful healthy dinners and enjoy them over good laughs with friends. Leave the stress of your job at your job when you come home and actually enjoy the time with your family, without distractions. Or better yet – retire from your job at 35 and never work in the office salt mines again. Spend the weekend at the beach or hiking through green woods. In short, START LIVING YOUR LIFE, rather than sacrificing your life on the altar of your job. How much health could you win back by starting to do these few simple things? Things that we all enjoy! In short, live your life, health will follow.
Hi Grizzly Dad,
Just wanted to tell you that I am thoroughly enjoying this blog. I have been following since the first post and it’s awesome! You are a great writer and present a great perspective on each topic you’ve discussed. Good stuff & thank you!
I work in healthcare (physical therapist by training – manager of a department in a mid-sized acute care hospital) and completely agree that our current “hodge-podge system” is broken. What do you think is the answer? Are there any good systems out there? I’ve pondered this a lot. I know our current system does not work, but I am not sure what the answer is.
A very good question. Don’t want to delve too much into politics, but this is one instance in which I think I have common ground with both sides. I think we would actually be better off moving in either direction compared to where we are today, i.e. further towards a more free market system or further towards a more government sponsored system. We just need to pick a direction.
I think the employer-sponsored system is fundamentally broken. The thing a lot of people don’t realize is that the employer-sponsored program is a massive government program, just a terrible one. It’s one of the single largest tax breaks we hand out, and it has a host of problems: hiding actual cost from consumers, tieing healthcare to employment discouraging job switching and entrepreneurship, incentivizing the offering of ‘gold-plated’ plans that encourage wasteful use of health care, etc. If I had a magic wand I would probably do a few things:
1. Eliminate the tax subsidy for employer-sponsored plans.
2. Completely open up the state insurance markets to competition. No more insurance markets limited by state borders.
3. Dramatically simplify the ACA, just make it a smoothly changing premium subsidy that doesn’t phase out at 400% FPL and doesn’t have the same weird discontinuities in support seen today. Extend the same smoothly changing subsidy to those under 100% FPL as well allowing you to just trash Medicaid.
4. Offer a public option on the exchanges that’s simply an extension of medicare for those under 65. Make it an ‘at cost’ program so it’s not unfairly competing against the private plans – if they can do it more efficiently or with better service let them.
5. Allow the public plan to aggressively negotiate prices with drug companies and providers.
6. Allow privately offered plans to piggyback on the prices negotiated by the public plan or negotiate their own if they can do better.
7. A Necessary evil – give the penalty for not having healthcare more teeth. This is one of the more unpopular points of the ACA, but for good policy wonkish reasons it’s necessary for a healthy insurance market that also guarantees protections for those with pre-existing conditions.
8. Allow nurse practitioners to operate independently for low complexity tasks and basic preventative care.
I could go on, but that would be a good start.
It’s very difficult in the times that we live in. With the recession – the people who lost their jobs were stressed out. The people who didn’t were stressed out – worried about losing their jobs, and doing the work of several people on top of that.
Added to that is age. In my experience, when you are in your 30s – if you are a professional, your career is taking off. You are getting raises and promotions. The work is harder, more demanding. It’s not as bad where I live as it is in the Bay Area or DC, but competition is fierce. Long hours are expected.
Unfortunately, that comes hand in hand with the years of growing a family, hence burning the candle at both ends.
I watched at least a dozen people come to my company 5-6 years ago, and gain 20 pounds. It was stressful. A startup, long hours, hard work, difficult culture. (At least my weight gain was pregnancy related!)
It takes effort to fix that. I went to a women’s retreat weekend 2x back in late 2013/ early 2014. I learned a lot. It really helped me take better care of myself. Meditation, exercise, relaxation techniques. Simple things like walking on my lunch break, prepping healthy food, having a cup of herbal tea at the end of the day, knitting or crocheting for ten minutes, and reading a bit before bed. These techniques FINALLY got me on the road to losing that baby weight.
But the honest truth on how I *really* had to work on my health is work – I had to let go. With the ups and downs in our company and industry, and hitting the glass ceiling…I realized that no amount of long hours and accomplishments were going to get me promoted. I’m not willing to move to a new town. There aren’t many jobs in my town. So, that means – I go to work. I do a good job. And then I go home. In fact, I work fewer hours than ever before. It was a very difficult transition for someone who was always Type A and recognized for my accomplishments.
When my kid has swim lessons? I leave early. When my other kid has practice? I leave early. On the two days a week that I have meetings until 6 pm? I go in late. I run errands on my lunch break. While I rarely have time for a lunch time walk, instead my hubby and I have started biking to work 2x a week. (I also swim 2x a week and have a weekend running group.) My husband has also said “I realize that I *should* be working more hours to get all of the work done. But I don’t want to. I’d rather spend the time with my kids.” We both volunteer a number of hours at the elementary school.
I prioritize healthy eating, and yes in the mornings, I spend about 30 minutes prepping 3 lunches for me, hubby, and the preschooler.
I see the same in my office, with those of us who have survived the 3 layoffs. A large number of people have started biking to work. More people are bringing their lunches. Work hours have been cut back. One coworker cut back to 30 hours a week. Some of this was by necessity. I’m in my mid-40s, and many of my coworkers are 55+. At our age, if you get sick, you can go down hard and for several weeks. My coworkers are realizing that working at the pace that we have been is a recipe for bronchitis or pneumonia.