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Prevention can keep health costs lower

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Health care costs are high and going higher, but health advocates say consumers can take some steps to protect their pocketbook.

Jane Clary, health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said prevention is a major part of health care.

"Anything that can be done to maintain good health, prevent health from deteriorating, and identify and treat medical problems when they occur will help keep the costs of health care down," Clary said.

Melinda Pitts, a research economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said experts don't expect health care spending to slow down.

"The United States spends far more on managed health care than any other developed country," she said at a recent statewide video conference that was part of Mississippi Consumer Education Month.

Hospital expenses account for 30 percent of total health care expenditures, and this number is growing rapidly. She said consumers are the biggest reason why health care costs are rising.

"I behave differently with insurance than without," Pitts said.

A person with insurance typically pays 20 percent of the cost of a procedure after the deductible is met. Some insurance offers a co-pay amount where the insured pays a low, fixed amount for certain services or prescriptions regardless of the deductible. Pitts said consumers who pay the full amount for a doctor visit, test or medication tend to use less of these services than insured consumers who only pay a portion of the cost.

Pitts said changes being made in the health care system are "shifting more of the burden of health care costs onto the consumer," a trend she expects to continue.

Clary urged consumers to make careful decisions about their health and lifestyle to give themselves the best chance of living a healthy life without high medical costs, but many are making bad choices.

About 25 percent of Mississippians age 18 and older use tobacco despite its known dangers to the smoker and those exposed to second-hand smoke. Nearly one-third of adult Mississippians report no leisure physical activity, but 30 minutes a day are recommended to reduce chronic diseases.

"A sedentary life leads to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and cancer," Clary said.

She said only 18 percent of Mississippians age 18 and older eat the recommended five fruits and vegetables a day, and most do not choose wisely from the food groups, balancing calories taken in with energy burned.

"Prevention is the key. It is important for people to maintain their own health and to develop positive health habits," Clary said. "The decisions made now will impact the cost and level of care needed later in life."

The Extension Service works to educate Mississippians on what leads to healthy lives and to motivate them to make needed changes.

Mississippi in Motion is an ongoing program designed to encourage healthy lifestyles. It is a team-approach that offers social support as participants follow a 12-week program of health and nutrition lessons and encouragement to create habits of exercise.

Know Your Numbers is a health screening program for early detection offered through the Extension Service and the Mississippi Chronic Illness Coalition.

"Healthy people have a cholesterol level below 200, blood pressure less than 120/80, a glucose level of 80 to 120 or less than 126 if they're fasting, and a body mass index less than 25," Clary said.

She encouraged everyone to know their health status and take any steps possible to improve their overall health. Have a plan for managing chronic problems and complete an advance health care directive, a legal document that dictates an individuals wishes concerning their medical care when they are no longer able to make those decisions.

"Be a wise consumer of health care" was one of four sessions organized by Bobbie Shaffett, Extension family resource management specialist, to highlight Mississippi Consumer Education Month.


Released: March 2, 2006
Contact: Dr. Jane Clary, (662) 325-5014


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