Now that it's passed and signed, RealAge's Dr. Michael Roizen investigates the pros and cons of the healthcare reform law of 2010.
Congress voted for it, the president signed it, yet opponents of healthcare reform have kept on shouting. By early April, 18 states had jumped on the anti-reform bandwagon, joining a lawsuit claiming the bill is unconstitutional. Gloom-and-doom prophets are still warning about rationed care, assembly-line medicine and long delays when you need treatment. There's been much noise about socialized medicine and states' rights too.
Meanwhile, supporters are constantly bringing up the important insurance reforms (especially for those with pre-existing conditions) and reductions in Medicare costs. Everyone's worked up about tax increases to pay for it.
But amid the shouting, are you hearing much about health? We didn't think so. The way we see it, real healthcare reform begins with fixing the core problems responsible for our costly and overburdened system. You don't have to read a 1,000-page law to know that we're paying for treating diseases rather than preventing them. That's why we've got more of a sickness-care system than a healthcare system. At least 70 percent of our healthcare spending goes to preventable diseases—you know, the ones caused by smoking, excessive weight, inactivity, poor diets and stress. Together, tobacco and obesity kill 835,000 people a year.
So will the law be as terrible as the naysayers claim? Actually, we saw some glimmers of hope in it. Among the items worth applauding:
A requirement to finally put calorie counts on menus at most chain restaurants, fast-food joints and even on vending machine snacks.
Coverage under most private insurance for preventive care like obesity screenings and nutritional counseling.
Work breaks for nursing mothers.
A tax on tanning salons. Exposure to UVA light from the sun or from a tanning booth kicks your skin cancer risk up by 75 percent.
Free yearly wellness visits for Medicare patients.
More money for preventive-medicine training for doctors.
Money for stop-smoking programs for pregnant women.
A trust fund that could help build more sidewalks, bike paths and hiking trails.
Where healthcare reform will succeed—or fail.
Healthcare reform will succeed if it gets people to live healthier lives. It will fail if you don't take advantage of any healthy-living tools it may offer—and if doctors, insurance companies and government don't focus on preventing chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease by attacking their root causes.
But don't wait for them to act. Laws can't make you healthy; only you can do that. Read our columns, watch Dr. Oz's show on TV, subscribe to RealAge.com's daily health tip. But most important of all, adopt habits that fight the biggest causes of preventable illness. You'll live longer, keep yourself out of our "sickness-care" system and (insert applause here) help hold the line against rising healthcare costs.
Here are four things you can do today—right now!
Move it. Set aside 30 minutes a day of your time and use it to walk. Your heart, your waistline, your weight, even your sex life and your brain will benefit. Walk no matter what. Get up early if there's a busy day ahead, do laps around the living room if a monsoon's brewing. After a few months of daily walking, extend your time and/or distance, and add a short strength-training routine.
If you smoke, shake that butt. Tobacco robs you of 10 years of life and adds 20 years of disability. It raises your odds for heart disease, cancer and emphysema. Quitting ain't easy, but it's worth it. Five years of smoke-free living can help you win back most of the years lost to cigarettes. Smoking's a psychological and physical addiction, so line up plenty of strategies in advance: nicotine replacement therapy, a prescription anti-craving drug and buddies who will support you. A month before your quit date, start walking 30 minutes a day too.
Eat as if your life depends on it. You know the drill, so just do it: Go for more fruits and veggies. Switch from refined to whole grains. Get your protein from fish, skinless chicken, low-fat dairy and a small daily serving of nuts. Watch portions. Eating fewer calories can extend your longevity as it whittles your waistline.
Enjoy a daily ah break. Reducing stress feels good and helps your immune system function optimally. Spend 5 minutes a day in prayer, meditation, yoga or a deep-breathing exercise.