There are many people who are healthy, regardless of their health care coverage. These people have a secret, and that’s to eating the right foods in the right proportions, getting some exercise, and maintaining healthy social connections.
While Medicare can be a tremendous help in times of emergency, it may actually be harmful to your health if you rely on it to support unhealthy habits. There are stories emerging from the U.S. right now about how getting people access to “Obamacare” may not be the panacea everyone hopes it will be.
The U.S. has long struggled with the issue of universal health care for its citizens. While gifted at spending billions of dollars on its military, the U.S. has balked at investing money in a national health care program. Every president, both Republican and Democrat, has tried to address the issue of health care. Recently, President Obama rolled out a program intended to please supporters and opponents alike.
The first few weeks and months saw many glitches in the new web site where consumers could go to sign up for a health insurance program. Promises have been made to fix the problems and get everyone on board with appropriate coverage for their needs.
Now, here’s the strange thing: past studies have proven that sometimes having health insurance causes the exact opposite effect that it was created for—it causes people to engage in unhealthy behavior.
One study has shown that elderly men (65 years and older) changed their behavior once they obtained health insurance. Because these men were now covered by insurance, they felt it was unnecessary to continue to safeguard their health by eating healthy foods, exercising, and staying away from harmful activities like smoking.
The study found that overall physical activity decreased by about 40%. There was a 15% increased likelihood that that these men would take up smoking, and they were 30% more likely to drink alcohol.
In another landmark study performed in Oregon, researchers compared the health status of those with medical insurance with those who remained uninsured. At the time of the study, government officials in Oregon decided to adopt the highly controversial policy of using a random lottery to dispense the limited number of Medicaid spots available. This created an unusual opportunity for researchers to compare the health of the insured with the uninsured. More than 10,000 people participated in the study. The research team found that having insurance did not improve health outcomes for people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. There was no change in the 10-year risk of having a heart attack for those who became insured.
This is not to say that having medical insurance is bad for Americans. Many, many citizens are in desperate need of coverage, especially during times of unexpected medical emergencies. However, don’t let signing up for health insurance lull you into a false sense of security. You still need to make the daily effort to promote your good health: you have to eat sensibly, exercise regularly and participate in activities that promote a healthy outlook on life. That’s the best chance you have of remaining healthy into your senior years.
Dave, D., et al., “Health insurance and ex ante moral hazard: evidence from Medicare,” Int J of Health Care Finance Econ. December 2009; 9(4): 367-90.
Gupta, S., “Better health not about Obamacare, it’s about you,” CNN Opinion web site, Dec. 2, 2013; http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/02/opinion/gupta-health-optimize/index.html?hpt=he_c2, last accessed Dec. 6, 2013.
Baicker, K., et al., “The Oregon Experiment — Effects of Medicaid on Clinical Outcomes,” N Engl J Med 2013; 368: 1,713-1,722.