As you might expect, I quite liked Nick Kristof's quick tour through the some of the more nightmarish corners of our food production system. "I fervently hope that we’re going to see a public insurance option this year," writes Kristof. "But one reason for our health problems is our industrialized agriculture system, and that should be under scrutiny as well."
Close readers will notice an important slide in those two sentences. Kristof moves from talking about health care system problems to, well, health problems. It's an important move. There are those who try to argue that better health will solve the problems of our health care system. That's less obviously true than it might seem: Living a long time is expensive. But we didn't build a health care system in the hopes that we'd eventually overcome the economic challenges it posed. We built it because we want to be healthy. And spending a bit more money helping people eat well when they're young is, in terms of being healthy, probably a lot more effective than spending a lot of money to keep people from dying from diabetes when they're older. I cover some of this ground in my article exploring whether health care reform will make you healthier. This bit is particularly relevant:
What we need, says health-care researcher Michael McGinnis, is a willingness to see health-care dollars as health dollars. The question should not be how much health care we can buy. It should be how much health we can buy. Whether that health comes through a doctor's office or a preschool is immaterial.
The health-care system speaks often of cost. McGinnis wants to see it operate on value instead. "Value is a very straightforward notion," he says. "It's how much a return you get for the effort you put in. In this case effort is dollars. And return is health.
Spending trillions to increase health care coverage while refusing to make the small investments that would help people eat better is like installing an incredibly expensive heating system in your house but never bothering to purchase a sweater.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
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