Embracing common ground to solve our healthcare crisis

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Part of the problem is we seem unable to get beyond the issue of coverage — who gets it, who provides it, who pays, how much, and for what. While this is extremely important, our healthcare problem doesn’t start and end there. In fact, the longer we focus on the coverage debate, the less we focus on what actually brought our healthcare system to its current breaking point.

The simple truth is this: The underpinning of America’s healthcare system — and its long-term viability — rests on the state of America’s health. All told, today’s healthcare crisis is largely the result of a surge in preventable chronic diseases that has been mounting over the past 20 to 30 years. These increasingly common illnesses are costly. And to a great extent, they are the upshot of a toxic mix of sedentary lifestyles, an unhealthy national food environment, and a weighted focus in our healthcare delivery system on the treatment of symptoms rather than on the prevention of disease.

What this means is that until we figure out a way to improve American’s health, no efforts at healthcare reform can have lasting success. Without bipartisan collaboration toward health reform — and policies that decrease preventable chronic diseases — we won’t be able to realize the healthcare savings that we’re so desperately after.

Luckily, improving America’s health isn’t a partisan issue. It’s political common ground.

Take for example, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), which recently came out with a paper by its new Health Care Cost Containment Initiative, led by former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn), former Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), and former Congressional Budget Office Director Alice Rivlin.

The paper, “What is Driving U.S. Health Care Spending? America’s Unsustainable Health Care Cost Growth,” highlights rising rates of chronic disease and co-morbidities—as well as lifestyle factors and personal health choices—among the key drivers of spending. According to the paper, the rapidly increasing number of people with chronic disease account for a disproportionate percentage of overall health spending.

Acutely aware of the direct link between the well-being of their constituents and the future prosperity of their states, a number governors have begun to take action as well. Republican Governor Mitch Daniels, for instance, started INShape Indiana — a program to help his fellow Hoosiers eat better, move more, and avoid tobacco. Governor Daniels believes so strongly in the importance of exercise as a key element of primary prevention that he shares his own fitness routine to help inspire others who are participating in the program.

Likewise, under Democratic Governor Jack Markell’s leadership, Delaware just broke new ground, kicking off its Children in Nature Initiative aimed at “leaving no child inside.” Moved by just how much the lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, and limited outdoor experiences are adversely affecting the health and academic achievement of Delaware’s children, the state took action. Now it is implementing recommendations by a task force for providing better access to green space, improving environmental literacy, promoting healthy lifestyles, and creating opportunities for all Delaware children to participate in outdoor experiences.

Even labor and businesses are coming together on healthcare. Take the Business and Labor Coalition of New York (BALCONY), for example. BALCONY is working with the Institute for Leadership to create a Diabetes Prevention Program designed to meet the needs of its labor and business members, which represent or employ many of the 4.3 million New Yorkers who are pre-diabetic or have diabetes, according to the organization.

And just recently the bipartisan National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA) launched the CEO Pledge, calling on every CEO in the United States to recognize physical activity as an important driver of employee health and business performance.

History shows us that when we reach across the aisle we affect the type of change that makes America great, beginning with our own Constitution. Bipartisan cooperation built highways under President Eisenhower, advanced civil rights under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, sent our astronauts to the moon when Richard Nixon was president, and improved the health of millions around the world as President George W. Bush led the funding fight for PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).

Solving America’s healthcare crisis has become a national imperative — and so has improving America’s health. It is time for us to look beyond partisan differences and embrace the common ground. Only then can we move forward together.

Durkin is executive vice president for public policy at the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA).
 

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