The rising cost of healthcare in the United States has prompted a move towards preventive medicine. It's a bid to stop illnesses from developing in the first place. According to the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, spending on healthcare in the U.S. will account for 20 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product within a decade. The National Coalition on Health Care, a group pushing to lower costs for patients, says American expenditure on medical treatments rose nearly seven percent in 2008. And that has caused some businesses to cut back on health coverage for employees.
Charlie Stuart, 57 years old, puts in time on his rowing machine, hoping to lose about ten percent of his body weight. He is heavier than he should be, but he is not alone. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says a third of American adults are obese, racking up tens of billions of dollars in healthcare costs.
Stuart believes paying a doctor to help him get in shape now will also help get his finances in shape. He hopes it will cut his outlays for healthcare in the long term, and give him additional productive years. "If I can spend a few hundred dollars now, and that helps me get one more year of income-producing as an adult, that year of income producing is so much bigger than whatever I spend now,” said Stuart.
Stuart watches what he eats, and does 30 minutes of exercise a day.
Rick Baxley, Stuart's doctor, encouraged him to change his lifestyle. Dr. Baxley says he has found a niche, offering preventive care to patients worried about future medical costs. He hopes preventive medicine will become more popular with Americans. Docter Baxley said, "If they kept their blood pressure down, if they kept their blood sugar down, if they kept their cholesterol down, if they quit smoking, then the cost of healthcare in the United States would drop dramatically."
Meanwhile, some U.S. corporations are making their own medical facilities available to staff and are emphasizing preventive care.
At the College Park Family Practice, employees of a major U.S. hotel corporation can receive a range of medical services for free, including help to quit smoking.
For Harris Rosen, President of Rosen Hotels and Resorts, preventing his staff from becoming sick improves productivity and reduces the future cost of employee medical benefits. Rosen said, "We've probably saved well over $ 100 million. On an annual basis, I expect we save between 10 and 15 million dollars."
Several other companies, including Walt Disney World, Darden Restaurants, and Lockheed Martin, have opened clinics for their employees. But although corporations and doctors stress the need for preventive care, the number of U.S. physicians practicing in the field has dropped, according to the American College of Preventive Medicine.
And doctors who offer preventive care sometimes do not have enough time to deal with urgent cases, says a recent study by Duke University.
Nevertheless, Dr. Baxley believes he is doing the right thing, not only for his patients' health, but also for their financial well-being.