Monday, July 9, 2012

Obamacare and Healthy Diet Prescriptions

I'm not a fan of Obamacare. I think forcing American citizens to purchase expensive health care insurance is not a solution to the health care crisis. President Obama can enact a law saying "You have to buy this product", but that doesn't mean the financially challenged among us will magically have the money to pay for it. It's a stupid law, even if it is considered constitutionally correct.

The health care crisis, in my opinion, can't be addressed by insurance plans. But since that seems to be the direction this administration is taking us, I'd like to discuss an idea I have for insurance companies to offer a better product.

Start with a Script 
I'd like to see "healthy diet prescriptions." Doctors often say, "Eat healthy. Stay away from fatty foods and reduce your sodium intake." For many people, those words don't really identify what constitutes a healthy diet, one that would aid in their staying healthy.

Now, insurance companies encourage doctors to assembly line their patients through the office so there's no real dialogue. Patients leave the office thinking they just can't eat McDonald's anymore. I propose that patients who have plunked down their $50 copay get a little more for their money.

Physicians write a "Healthy Diet Plan" prescription, and the patient is then sent to a certified nutritionist. The health insurance company pays for this visit; it's part of the original copay.

The patient gets an in-depth session with a nutritionist. The nutritionist develops a diet specific to that patient's needs, and takes the time to explain how best to utilize this plan.

The Cost of a Healthy Diet
Healthy foods, though, are more costly than cheap, junky food. A single green pepper can cost a dollar (How outrageous is that!)Lean cuts of beef cost around $8 a pound, and chicken breasts around $6 a pound - more in some regions of the country.

People often forego the better foods because their budget is already strained, and ground beef is cheaper than chicken breasts, and a can of beans (think fat and salt) goes farther than a single green pepper.

Ahh, but now the patient has a prescription for these healthier foods. Now, getting healthy and staying healthy through proper nutrition is a medical thing, not just a food trend. The patient isn't just buying expensive food, he's buying meds.

So, how does the healthy diet prescription help our patient reduce the cost of his medically prescribed diet?

Tax Deductions
According to the Obamacare plan, it falls to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to collect the penalties for lack of health insurance from those citizens unable or unwilling to pay for this product.

Medical costs, such as doctor visits and prescriptions, are tax deductible. I propose that anyone with a healthy diet prescription, or a prescription for a gluten free diet, or a prescription for a diabetes diet - you get the idea - is allowed to claim the cost of their foods as a tax deduction.

So, let's say our patient spends $75 a week on his prescription diet. In a year's time, he's spent $3900. That entire amount counts as a medical deduction.

Why Should Health Insurance Companies Do This
It's time for the health insurance industry to put its money where its mouth is. Health insurance companies yammer on about "health visits" and "preventative care" and send customers pamphlets about being healthy. They do this because healthy customers don't cost them money.

If we, as a nation, are putting the health insurance industry in charge of our health care, then it needs to put up or shut up.

Insurance companies need to pay for customers to stay healthy. They need to make it possible to deduct the cost of healthy foods, of yoga classes, gym memberships and exercise equipment.

The health insurance industry needs to subsidize health food stores and supermarkets that carry specific dietary foods that meet the needs of those whose conditions demand a specific diet. This subsidy would reduce the initial out of pocket costs of these foods for those who are already financially challenged.

If we, as a nation, are putting the health insurance industry in charge of health care, then we need to demand a better product, one that keeps us healthy, not leaves us sick and financially crippled.