Less is more
April 14, 2012

Interest-on-savings-accountI was recently asked for ideas on cutting the amounts we spend on healthcare. My immediate reaction was to think ‘What a strange question’. Surely there’s nothing difficult about cutting healthcare costs? The question is a bit of a no-brainer. Who on earth would ask something like that? I admit I’m naive, but that’s an excellent quality for answering this question. Something else that helps is being able to take a clear look at reality and to acknowledge that we already know a lot about disease prevention and, therefore, about saving money. Facing facts is no fun, of course, but knowing them does help.

Some 95% of cardiovascular diseases can be prevented, while 90% of cases of diabetes need not have happened. And that’s also true for 50% of all cancers. According to Bob Weinberg, one of the world’s leading cancer biologists, the figure may even be as high as 65%. I’m focusing on cancer here, but what I’m saying is certainly also true for several other serious illnesses.

It’s now 100 years since the Titanic sunk. During his speech at Inspire2Live in Amsterdam (which you can see and listen to on www.inspire2live.org) Weinberg referred to ‘The Titanic hitting the iceberg’. And I immediately thought of him when the strange question about cutting healthcare costs was put to me. If we don’t intervene to stop the huge and preventable rise in the number of cancer patients, we’re simply going to run out of money. But intervening means realising we also need to take action to improve something else: our lifestyle. We smoke too much, drink too much, weigh too much, eat too much (or at least too much unhealthy food) and take too little exercise. And all subsidised by the government. That’s because there’s money to be made. But there’s also money to be lost, and the scales have now clearly tipped against us. We’re losing more than we’re gaining. Particularly from a health perspective.

The tobacco lobby currently has a seat in both the Cabinet (Minister Hillen is a supervisory director of British American Tobacco) and the Upper House (Elco Brinkman, chairman of the CDA party in the Upper House, is a supervisory director of Philip Morris). So we know we needn’t expect any anti-smoking policies any time soon. Do you ever wonder why asbestos has been banned? Because it causes cancer. And so why hasn’t tobacco also been banned? That’s simple: it causes cancer, but it also brings in a whole lot of money, and Hillen and Brinkman work hard to keep things that way. The bio industry can carry on pumping out more CO2 from meat production, almost all of which is diseased and full of antibiotics, than the transport sector will ever manage to achieve. But it also brings in a whole lot of money, and the Cabinet works hard to keep things that way. Can you imagine such a lack of policy on healthy food? The first thing schools cut back on is sport. You can then forget the idea of pupils taking much healthy exercise. Bad eating habits and lack of exercise are resulting in huge problems of obesity. And the government is subsidising this.

So what can we do about it? It’s very simple. All primary and secondary school children should be made to do 5 hours a week of sport. And given lessons on healthy living (cookery lessons, for example). Tobacco should be made so expensive that people stop buying it. And the only places where it’ll still be available will be tobacco shops. Just like buying drugs in ‘coffeeshops’. Then there’s the radical step of immediately banning the bio industry. That’ll reduce huge amounts of animal suffering and clean up the air at the same time. The next thing is to get market forces completely out of healthcare. Doctors and hospitals are currently paid for each treatment performed, while what they should be doing is simply making patients better. It’s not surprising that numbers of treatments and, therefore, costs are rising.

That, in a nutshell, is how to cut spending on health. That’s all that’s needed. And I don’t mind being called naive because, in this case, it’s something to be proud of.