Much has been said about healthcare in the last few months. It seems there is nothing more to talk about. I mean come one we’re headed towards National Socialism or Communism (interesting how one policy can lead to wildly divergent political outcomes eh?), we’re going to kill grandma, we’re going to ration healthcare, we’re going to take healthcare decisions out of the hands of patients and put it in the hands of bureaucrats (a dramatic shift, no doubt, from my insurance company denying any and every treatment I’ve ever needed until I called in to bust some balls). Well this post is about absolutely none of those things, so I’d appreciate it if we could avoid such silliness.
No, this post is about the costs to our healthcare that arise from our social isolationism. Okay, so the title is a bit misleading, it says individualism, but I tend to not see a dramatic difference. Individualism encourages us to look to no one but ourselves for our necessities, which when taken to its logical endpoint, means we become more isolated. Semantics aside, my argument is pretty simple: our isolationism is costing us in our healthcare spending – and big time.
One thing that we don’t really hear about in healthcare debates, particularly when comparing the United States to other countries is that virtually all of the other countries with universal healthcare also have much tighter social webs, community life, and place less emphasis on individualism. I don’t think there is a direct 1:1 correlation between community attachment and healthcare spending, only that there is an indirect link that probably hasn’t been studied very much. A few areas strike me here as very likely areas where this matters a lot:
1) the elderly. Older people are notoriously lonely, especially in the US. In my relatively limited travel, I’ve noticed that older people rarely live alone in other places, they usually live in multi-generational households. They watch their grandkids (or great grandkids) and their children take care of them. The psychological toll of that constant loneliness really gets to people and lonely people are more likely to be depressed, get sick, and generally be less happy. I imagine that older people like to see their doctors more because they have someone to talk to. Hell a lot of older people I know base a good chunk of their social lives around discussing their health conditions and ailments. Who better than a doctor . . . which leads me to . . .
2) Hypochondriacs. People who think they are always sick. Have a sore thoat? Maybe it’s tonsilitis. Oh God! a bump on your neck? must be a tumor…or so WebMD suggests. More information isn’t good if the person receiving the information doesn’t know how to interpret it properly, but that’s an aside. Without people, family, close friends, co-workers to give us that reality check and tell us it’s ok, every sneeze sends us to the doctor and every chest pain demands an MRI. Which of course leads to . . .
3) Pill Popping. Suburban housewives are huge drug users. They just pop prozac and antidepressants. They put their kids on ritalin because they’re hyper (really? a hyper kid needs medication? Really? God what would have happened to me if ritalin were widely prescribed when I was 5). We turn ourselves into blank zombies. We’re not any happier because of all of the pills. We don’t feel any better. If anything our isolation and self-medication make us feel worse, hate our lives, and become depressed. Which leads me to . . .
4) Psychiatric Care. Now I’ve never been to a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a therapist of any kind. Some who know me well enough might suggest it could help. Maybe, maybe not. I have, however, known many people with severe problems who were and are on multiple meds and seeing multiple therapists. Some people genuinely need this. For a lot of people, however, I get the feeling that having a loving family around and good, supportive friends would be as good or better. Even people with serious issues could probably benefit from a tight social network. I’m not spouting here, because I’ve seen the difference in people (primarily with depression) who deal dramatically better with their issues when they’re around family and friends than when they feel alone.
And of course all this stems from the belief that *I* (not me specifically, but the Ego “I”) am a special and unique snowflake and my life is worth an infinite amount of money (well as long as I’m not picking up the tab) and of course so are my loved ones’. Now when it comes to *your* life and you will cost a million dollars for the possibility of living another two months, to hell with you. Ah the Ego bias.
This isn’t nuts, it’s probably a series “well duh” things. I know. But no one’s talking about it.
Point being that we can do a lot to “fix” health care by expanding coverage, cutting costs and all that jazz, but we may still face higher costs than we have to because of our culture of isolation and individualism. I’m not suggesting we all hug and sing kumbaya. I’m not suggesting we have group hugs (although I do enjoy hugs). Point simply being that we’re treating conditions more than we need to or that probably shouldn’t exist as a result of our culture. I don’t know how to “fix” it. I don’t know that it can be “fixed.” Just an observation.