Bass: The high cost of staying healthy – The Robesonian

James Bass Contributing columnist
Staying healthy may be the most expensive thing many of us will ever do. Some Americans are just killing themselves to live and they’re only one medical bill away from being broke.
Last month I received a bill in the mail from a testing lab for about $250. I’ve been seeing the same doctor regularly for over a decade and I have never received a bill for testing. Granted, I’m warned that if I get my routine tests done too soon, insurance won’t pay for it. If I wait too late, then my appointment with the doctor must be rescheduled.
After calls to both my doctor’s office and the testing lab, it turned out that someone had entered my insurance information incorrectly and I didn’t owe anything. Still, the sticker shock nearly caused my blood pressure to go through the roof.
The story is all too familiar to us. Someone is experiencing pain or discomfort to the extent that they felt that a hospital or doctor’s visit is necessary. Logically, we know it’s better to be safe than sorry. However, weeks later the person gets a bill in the mail that is far greater than they imagined, oftentimes enough to wish they had just toughed it out and not made that visit.
“At least I’ve got my health, right?”
If this sounds ironic, it’s because it is. Because it generally costs money to stay healthy. Gym memberships cost money, healthy food costs money, preventative care costs money, and when it’s all said or done, there’s no guarantee that you won’t be injured in an accident or contract a life-threatening disease. Which is going to cost even more money.
In 1960, health care spending made up just 5% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. By 2020 that number was 20%. Some analysts say that health care outpaces inflation. A variety of reasons contribute to the high cost of health care in the U.S.
According to Blue Cross Blue Shield’s website, the three biggest factors driving the cost of healthcare in America are prescription drugs, chronic diseases and lifestyle choices.
The latter two go hand-in-hand. While many chronic diseases are not caused by lifestyle choices, smoking, excessive drinking, drug abuse, poor diet and lack of exercise can contribute to chronic disease conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. Poor lifestyle choices may also be related to poor education and poverty (which arguably are problems all their own). And ultimately, those chronic conditions call for prescription medications.
Drug manufacturers set the initial price for a medication and then a pharmacy benefits manager negotiates discounts and rebates for consumers; however, those middlemen don’t always pass the savings to the consumer. In some instances, the consumer is forced to make a decision between paying the high cost of the drugs or facing further health complications because they can’t afford the drugs.
Even if you have affordable health insurance, you probably have a high deductible and a copay, and yet it’s still at the discretion of the insurance company to deem whether your claim is covered at all. Some things, such as dental and mental healthcare may not be covered under some policies. More than half of Americans say they are concerned that they can’t afford medical care, and something that is becoming too common is the number of people who completely forgo health care altogether because of the costs. According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 30 percent of Americans failed to take medications because of the cost.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million Americans do not carry health insurance because even with insurance the costs are so exorbitant and the time spent submitting claims, following up and fighting with insurance companies isn’t worth it. About 20% of American households carry medical debt of at least $2,000. African Americans are among the highest percentage of Americans with medical debt, about 10% more than Caucasian families. Families with members who did not have a college degree ranked among the highest in debt.
Preventative healthcare is the best prescription, but even eating healthy costs more. A Harvard study found that it costs approximately $1.50 a day more or $550 per year to enjoy a nutritious meal as opposed to an unhealthy one. And that’s not considering today’s inflation. Conversely, a healthier lifestyle can save money in the future. For example, eliminating smoking or junk food can save more than $3,500 per year. The CDC suggests that losing just 10 percent body weight can reduce an individual’s lifetime medical costs by up to $5,000.
We simply can’t afford to get sick. None of us. According to a Forbes article from earlier this year, employers have seen premiums increase 215% (that’s correct) in the last two decades. Meanwhile, the Kaiser Foundation last year found that while employer family health coverage rose 4 percent, worker’s wages rose 5 percent and inflation grew by nearly 2%
Take care of yourself and your loved ones because at the rate we are going, we’re only one medical bill away from the doctor’s office to the poor house.
James Bass is the director of the Givens Performing Art Center at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He can be reached at [email protected]
2175 N. Roberts Ave,
Lumberton, NC 28358


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