This will be a different perspective on health-care reform. It is not about whether the Democrats or the Republicans offer a better plan. Nor is it about the uninsured, euthanasia or abortion, all of which are unacceptable to those who value human life. This is about a more challenging aspect of health-care reform, taking care of our own health.
Ultimately, health care is not the responsibility of the government, or the insurance companies, or the media. It is my own personal responsibility. The most fundamental reform in health care should focus on how we take care of ourselves. Americans, however, are typically careless about diet, do not exercise and indulge in risky behavior. Often they do not get proper sleep, healthful recreation or regular medical checkups. Some use tobacco or illegal drugs; others abuse alcohol or prescription drugs.
Such harmful behavior exacerbates the already grave stress on our health services. According to the Center for Disease Control, tobacco adds $168 billion, obesity $147 billion, alcohol abuse $27 billion, prescription drug abuse $26 billion, and illegal drugs $11 billion to our national health care bill. Other estimates vary but not substantially. This is more than 10 percent of the $3.2 trillion spent annually on medical services. This is only the direct medical costs, not secondary effects such as employee absence, loss of productivity and addiction treatment which would dramatically increase those figures. Reducing destructive behavior would alleviate the burden of providing necessary care and allow for programs of preventive care and health improvement.
This is not a naïve dream of an ideal world, or a guilt trip for those who are bravely struggling to overcome an addiction. It applies to all risky behavior including careless driving, lack of seat belts, irresponsible sex, over work and sleep deprivation. This financial data never should be used to reduce human life to dollars and cents. “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25). This startling data of medical costs is meant to emphasize how our behavior has a serious impact on the state of national health care. Not only Congress, we ourselves are the culprits.
What has all of this got to do with the Christian faith? Everything. The Son of God took on a human body. Pope John Paul II spoke often of “The Theology of the Body.” Pope Francis in “Laudto Si” emphasized we are the stewards not the masters of God’s creation, beginning with the gift of our own life. Religious sponsored hospitals dedicated to alleviating suffering have been a glorious part of our heritage of faith.
We are stewards of God’s creation who must give an account not only for how we treat the flora and fauna of planet earth, but also for how we care for the marvelous body God has given us. The Psalmist wrote, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139). For Christians, the most relevant belief regarding health care is that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Let there be health-care reform. And let it begin with me.
Father Earl Meyer is at St. Fidelis Friary, Victoria.