Health Care: What Are Your Choices, and What You Should Do For You

Just as we consume clothes, music, and electronics, we consume health services. This is how the health care system (hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, etc.) normally views us. We are customers. In the same vein, if we are just a little more proactive about investing time and money in our health like we do with material goods, we could end up with longer and more fulfilling lives.

Going to the doctor for a checkup, getting medicine and undergoing medical treatments aren’t superfluous expenses — they’re required to live well. Different from other material goods, health care is a basic need, and sadly, its actually one of our most expensive needs. The health care system knows this and unfortunately the way it is set up in the United States, a priority on profit often overtakes the priority on patients.

But we don’t have to take it lying down. Like when we make careful decisions about which HDTV to buy, we should carefully consider what doctor we’re seeing or what treatments are appropriate for us. Unfortunately with the doctor, there is no 90-day Costco return policy. Basically, we need to become advocates of our own health care. The health care system isn’t going to do that for us.

Isn’t it annoying to get a bill from a clinic charging for services that weren’t covered by health insurance? Isn’t it frustrating that no one warned that those services weren’t going to be covered? If you answered “no” to both of these then you are like myself and many others who fell victim to our practice of confusing health insurance reimbursement. Sometimes the bill comes months later and you find yourself scratching your head about what exactly you’re getting charged for.

We are expected to know our insurance plan and can’t rely on our doctors to know what’s covered and what’s not. So when she suggests a procedure, we will actually know if and how it’s covered by our current plan. Too bad it has to be this way, right? Hopefully the new wave of health care reform might do something about it.

In the meantime, we owe it to ourselves and our pocketbooks to become educated not only about positive health behaviors but also about the health care system as a whole. We need to take the time to choose and understand our health insurance policy so it will provide adequate coverage for our needs at a price we can afford. We should also carefully choose our doctor to make sure they have great credentials and that we’re comfortable with them.

We should also think differently about our health. This could extend the length and quality of our lives. As it is one of our biggest expenses, we have some financial incentive to be proactive. Small investments in time and resources, for example, to get screened for STDs or regulate nutrition can save big bucks in the future when we have to shell out mucho dinero or take time off work to get treated for a serious disease. We should know that heart disease is the leading cause of death and we should start now to prevent it through regular exercise and low-fat diet.

For a long happy life, we must become our own health care advocates. We need to become educated on how to secure that type of life with positive health behaviors and wise health investments. Otherwise our health care will be expensive and our actual health will be mediocre. Small changes today can create big change the future.

Rajiv Ramdeo is a graduate student in Public Health and can be reached at