We can spend all we want—we still won't be happy and healthy. We'll only break our piggy banks trying.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, May 28, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
We're getting unhealthier, no matter how much we spend
Among Ted Kennedy's notable legislative initiatives is insurance parity for emotional disorders. Like many noble efforts, this cost will be borne by private insurers and public payors, which means ordinary people will pay for them. Yet almost fifty million taxpayers already can't afford health insurance.
The solution for the issue of the uninsured from Democratic candidates is universal coverage, like that offered in other civilized nations. Universal health care is, as Kennedy notes, a fundamental right. We can only recoil when Fox News commentators bloviate that there is no need to change the American health care system, since they and other well-off people already have access to the best doctors and medical facilities.
But, again, someone will have to pay for it, and the someone is us. I live in a bellwether state, New Jersey, which is at the top of national rankings for property taxes, indebtedness, and cranky citizens. Governor Jon Corzine, who has proposed several ways to address our multi billions of financial obligations, has record low approval ratings.
Among the true but unpopular things Corzine has announced is: "Frankly, New Jersey has a government its people can't afford." So Corzine is withdrawing support for local hospitals. Of course, this means that they will pass their expenses along to insurance companies, Medicare, and whichever poor idiots they can get to pay for their own health care - that is, we all must pay this bill.
In this monumental game of pass the buck - or rather, pass the hat - we never address Americans' appetites. These are taken for granted. Americans are not healthy - older Americans have more of every major illness and health condition than the English (even our wealthy are roughly comparable to their poor) despite our paying twice the per capita health care costs of the UK. And the British are the unhealthiest people in Western Europe!
The primary example of unhealthy plentitude is that American teens are the fattest in the world. (This remains true despite recent signs that youth obesity is leveling off.) Alarmed public health authorities are predicting an actual downturn in life span when this generation achieves adulthood. Belated and ineffectual responses cannot remedy that young Americans luxuriate in unhealthy diets, inactivity, and a sense that they require more attention than they are already receiving in our child-centered culture. This also makes them addiction-prone, as I detail in Addiction-Proof Your Child.
Which brings us to bipolar and other epidemic emotional disorders among the young, treated by massive and ever-increasing doses of psychiatric medications. American kids, despite all their privileges, aren't happy. And the American response is to offer them something to put in their mouths - not to make them happy - but at least to reduce their bitter complaints.
The surest way to incur Americans' wrath is to suggest that they can't have everything they want all the time without delay. When any suggestion is made that we curb our appetites - or simply wait in line - like managed health care and HMOs, Americans rise as one to protest. Michael Moore's film, "Sicko," simply demands more health care instantaneously without addressing the underlying imbalances in American lives.
The very demands Americans are making for more health care, more medications, fewer bills is actually a sign that we are emotionally and physically drained, rather than offering realistic ways to improve our health. Our increasing crankiness and ineffectuality, coming at a time when the country is facing stunning belt-tightening economic realities, predicts that our emotional and physical health will continue to decline.