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Archive for October, 2011

Being a Smart Healthcare Consumer

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Healthcare has become an astronomically expensive part of life. There are lots of directions to point fingers, but the only place where you have any real control is your own behavior. Taking care of your health without being taken over by the system is a tricky proposition.

What can we do to be good healthcare consumers?

Seeing it as your personal responsibility instead of expecting someone to make you feel better whenever you don’t is a great start. We all need to take responsibility for eating wisely, being active enough to keep our bodies functioning well, and foregoing things that aren’t good for us physically—like tobacco and stress.

That’s a personal quest that will be unique for each of us, but it’s still ours to do. Too often, we agree to take a pill instead of improving our lifestyle choices. That’s simpler for “the machine” than keeping track of how you’re doing on an ongoing basis and it’s simpler for you.

But think about the side effects. Very rarely do prescription drugs come with positive side effects. When you agree to take that pill instead of going the “harder’ route, you may well end up with another problem—or more than one–because of what the drug is doing to your body. With lifestyle choices, the opposite is true. When you decide to start walking to reduce your stress, you’ll soon discover that it’s also helping you—with your weight, your endurance, and maybe even your outlook.

So as a first step, every time you have the option, choose to make the lifestyle choice rather than asking your body to deal with a drug–or a surgical procedure.

The second piece of this is being selective in how you interact with your healthcare providers. An intelligent approach to healthcare is no longer simply a case of knowing when to call the doctor. Many healthcare organizations give you more than one option for getting help. Calling the 24/7 Nurse Hotline may give you enough information to deal with the problem. Going to the urgent care clinic instead of the emergency room will get you in and out faster. (Get your medical drama on TV.)

Forego the temptation of asking the doctor to “fix it” every time you feel uncomfortable. Seeing your family physician for a head cold after three days wastes your time and someone’s (yours or Medicare’s) money. Many things go away on their own if given the chance. Be smart about deciding both when you need to get your healthcare provider involved and how you access them. Learn the difference between “pain” and “discomfort.”

Every time you end up in that doctor’s office you take on two additional risks. First, because sick people go there, you might end up catching something a lot worse than what you went to get help with. Second, once you are “in the system,” your control over what will and won’t be done diminishes considerably.

To stay as far away from “the machine” as you can and still be responsible, you need to make wise decisions about both IF and HOW to get your health care providers involved.

The third leg of this stool is having as much in place as you can so that when you do need significant amounts of medical care, your healthcare providers and loved ones are aware of what you do and don’t want. If you are coherent, ask questions. Find out what the procedure they want to do will accomplish and why it’s important to do it. (I’ve instructed my sons not to let anyone do tests and procedures on me simply to “try something.” That kind of guessing game rarely does more than run up a huge bill and make the patient miserable.)

It also helps to do all you can to identify what’s happening yourself. Make a strong effort to explain the pain or problem concisely rather than just saying “My side hurts.” We could probably save ten hours of every medical professional’s work week if we were better at this. They are trying to help. If you don’t help them, they will resort to more tests and procedures to figure out things you could have told them.

Be clear—with your family and the medical staff—about what’s wrong, what you need, and what you don’t want.

These three strategies might not keep “the machine” totally out of your life, but they will help you minimize your encounters with it. Sounds good to me.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

The Growing Revolt Against Greed

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Don’t sell Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party short.They are the tip of the iceberg.  Those who are thriving on the status quo–big corporations, legislators, the healthcare industry–might want to have more respect for what’s going on.  It is very unwise to scoff at others’ pain.

Pundits keep saying that Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are polar opposites. Not really. They are both against greed, just greed in different forms.

Greed is defined as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something than needed.” As a nation, we are into that in spades. but it’s not just a “desire” for more than needed.  It’s a quest to get it at the expense of everyone else.

The big banks took taxpayer money to stave off total collapse when the financial meltdown first developed. As a show of gratitude for the faith the country put in them, they now look for new ways to charge customers fees every time the government denies them the excessive ones they were charging another way.  The big banks really do not get it.  They trashed the economy with their blunders on mortgage lending, took a handout to stay afloat, and are still so arrogant they can’t grasp how sleazy their current behavior appears   They are literally blinded by their greed. 

In its current form, our government is also horrendously greedy. Instead of getting rid of programs that don’t work and insisting on the careful administration needed to make sure graft and fraud are held at bay, bureaucrats complain they just don’t have enough money to do it right.

Fiddlesticks!  They don’t have the will to do it right.  Their greed is for comfort.  They don’t want to be bothered to do the hard work.  

And that includes the politicians who don’t want to do the hard work of getting elected with out the cushy arrangements with corporate America that provide millions of dollars for reelection campaigns.  

There are things government needs to do for the sake of the common good.  How much of what the government currently uses tax dollars for falls  in that category? Greed for power.  Greed for control.  Greed for easy lives.

The advertising industry is also built on greed.  They sell more and more air time in more and more places without any thought of what they have created for “the market.”  The billions of dollars earned on campaign ads inflict a huge amount of misery on those who have to endure them.  All this fighting and mudslinging is a cash cow for them, but for us, it’s turning the living room–or the interior of the car–into a war zone.

The healthcare industry should be paying very close attention to what’s going on, too.  When Michael Leavitt stepped down as Secretary of Health and Human Services in 2009, he noted that the average American household was then paying 23% of its income on healthcare costs.  (He included what we all pay in taxes for Medicaid and Medicare.)  He also cautioned that absent significant reform, that number would be over 40% by 2030.   Obamacare increased that expense.  There is no significant reform on the horizon.

At the same time,  an exhaustive study done by MD and PhD researchers led by Gary Null found that “American medicine frequently causes more harm that good.”  Using their most conservative statistical analysis, they concluded that at least 7.8 million Americans will die from medical mistakes–botched procedures, prescribed drug errors or interactions, etc–in the next 10 years.  They go on to point out that number is greater than all the Americans who have died in all the wars America has fought in its entire history.  Absent a better plan than “make money,” the medical industry is begging for a revolt.

But it’s not just the big corporations and government that are infected with the greed mentality.  Entitlement is a form of greed.  Going to the ER to get treated for your cold and expecting someone else cover the cost is greed.  Thinking that you should not have to take a hit on your payment from the government simply because it’s not convenient for you–when there is not enough money and everything has to be cut–is a form of greed.  Resisting change to improve our schools so we can compete is one of the lowest forms of greed.  (Maintaining the status quo so I don’t have to do anything difficult is more important than teaching kids what they really need to know?  How pathetic.)

I wish I’d paid more attention when my mom told me to study economics. Maybe then I’d know how often greed takes hold of a nation–any nation but most especially our nation–and what it takes to make it let go.

It’s reached epidemic proportions.  We need to stamp out greed.  

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

Links to Mary Lloyd elsewhere…

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Huffington Post blogging and a radio podcast. What a nice way to end (or start) the week!

The Huffington Post has started a section called Huffington Post 50 and I’ve been invited to blog for them. My first post went live with the debute of the section on Friday, Sept 30.  Check it out.  And if you want to help shape what appears there, figure out how to post a comment and do that whenever you agree–or disagree–with whatever you’ve just read.

Also, last Sunday (Oct. 2) I was interviewed by Kevin de Phillips for The Beacon program on radio station WCPT 820 AM in Chicago.  They focus on issues related to seniors, veterans, and the disabled and are spending the entire month of October on employment issues.   Check out that broadcast. (My interview with Kevin starts about 40% of the way into the program.)

While we’re at it, you might also want to see what I’ve been saying for over a year in the Building a Better Workforce column that I write for workforce50.com.  Their website is a treasure trove so look around once you get there.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.