The cost and access to health care has been a controversial issue for as long as I can remember. While it is debatable whether recent legislation has fixed the problem, statistics show that the rise in health care cost has outpaced the rate of inflation for 9 of the last 10 years. And if this trend continues, it is just a matter of time before health care becomes unaffordable once again. This means that taxes and insurance premiums will need to rise in order for the insurance companies to keep us covered.
Rising Stress Levels
Most of the solutions to our health care problems revolve around the supply of health care services. However, the demand for health care services may be a greater problem than the supply. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, approximately 70 percent of health care expenditures are from preventable illness. Many of these illnesses are chronic conditions that are the result of smoking and obesity—the most costly conditions to treat. But at the core of smoking and most obesity cases is the inability to deal with stress in a healthy manner.
Also, our attitudes about health and health care have contributed to the problem. Many people neglect or abuse their body, thinking they’re invincible. And when it breaks down, they expect medical professionals to simply repair and restore it to its original condition. While modern medicine can perform some truly amazing feats, it does have its limitations.
The laws of supply and demand apply to health care just the same as any other industry. So, if we can reduce the demand for health care services, then we can certainly apply downward pressure on the costs. But in order to do so, we need to change people’s behavior. They need to learn how to cope with stress in a healthier manner. Certainly, changing people’s behavior can be quite a challenge, but it’s not impossible. In fact, we’re already making some progress in this direction.
Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Over the last couple of decades, researchers have been busy studying the effects of mindfulness meditation. The main focus has been its effect on stress. Numerous studies have shown that the practice reduces stress levels and cortisol, the stress hormone, which can be harmful when levels are chronically elevated. By reducing stress, people experience fewer side effects from elevated cortisol levels, and feel less inclined to engage in unhealthy behavior, such as smoking and overeating as a means of coping with stress.
Other research has found that mindfulness meditation strengthens the immune system. It makes people more resistant to diseases, and promotes faster healing. In addition, the practice helps people develop the inner strength to make healthier choices in their lives. It promotes mindful consumption of nutrients for optimal health of body and mind.
We Are Not Powerless over Health Care
As consumers of health care services, we feel powerless to effect any changes to the health care system. So we elect political leaders who we think can solve the problems, and hope for the best. The truth is, we are in the best position to transform the system. By living healthier lifestyles, we can significantly reduce the demand for health care services, and force the industry players to compete more for our business by reducing their prices, and increasing the quality of their products and services.
Remember that 70 percent of health care expenditures are the result of preventable illness, so there’s plenty of room for improvement. If we can reduce this demand by 20 percent, which is not inconceivable, we can force the industry to realign itself.
As demand goes down, there will be an oversupply of service providers, forcing some of them to leave the market, and the rest to compete for your business. The health insurance companies will also be forced to compete for your business with lower prices and better options. And with the demand for drugs plummeting, the pharmaceutical companies will also be forced to lower their prices. This scenario may not be desirable for the providers, but it will be great for the consumers who can no longer afford the continued rise of health care costs.
Learning Mindfulness Meditation
The practice of mindfulness meditation has the potential to help us regain control over our health, and the medical care we need. But in order to make this a reality, we must learn the practice and commit ourselves to practicing it diligently. There are several ways to learn mindfulness meditation, such as through books and CDs, meditation groups, and mindfulness retreats. The way you choose, of course, will depend on your budget. But whichever option you choose, it is best to learn from a knowledgeable teacher.
The continued rise of health care cost is unsustainable. Up to now, most solutions that have been proposed to fix the system address only the supply of health care services. But no matter what supply-side solutions politicians come up with, it is just a matter of time before we’re in the same position—unaffordable medical care and limited access.
The recent rise in popularity of mindfulness meditation is helping people live healthier lives by helping them cope with stress in ways that don’t harm the body and mind. This will lower the demand for health care services, and exert downward pressure on costs, and upward pressure on quality. With mindfulness meditation we can take back control of our health care system, and keep health care affordable and accessible to everyone.