The Importance of Preventive Health Care

The adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is especially true when applied to health care. But each year, millions of Americans choose to skip routine examinations, allowing preventable diseases to end hundreds of thousands of lives.

Immunizations, vaccines, check-ups, routine physicals--they're all essential to good health. But those without proper health insurance are far less likely to get the preventive care they need.

What is Preventive Care?

Rather than treating a condition after it has progressed, preventive care focuses on preventing disease and maintaining proper health. Preventive care may include immunizations, vaccines, regular check-ups, routine physicals and colonoscopies.

Treating a disease in its earliest stages can be relatively easy, sometimes requiring little more than a simple prescription. But helping a patient combat the effects of an advanced disease can prove extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible.

Preventive Care is Essential

When it comes to treating potentially serious conditions, early diagnosis is key. Generally, the earlier you begin treatment for a condition, the greater your chance for a full recovery.

Even if you're in the best shape of your life, a serious condition with no signs or symptoms may be lurking inside your body. X-rays, blood tests and other routine screenings are among the only ways to detect the early warning signs. If a specific condition runs in your family, like colon cancer, it's even more important that you get screened early and often to keep healthy.

Advances in routine screening procedures have made testing incredibly accurate. For example, a new type of MRI can diagnose heart disease up to 10 years before the patient is at risk for a heart attack. Medical professionals are also better educated about what to look for during routine screening procedures.

Uninsured Less Likely to Receive Health Care

Uninsured citizens are three times less likely to receive medical care as insured persons. So it's no surprise that the uninsured receive less preventive care and have higher mortality rates than those with coverage. By the time they begin to show symptoms and visit a doctor, their condition is often far more difficult (and expensive) to treat.

According to the U.S. Census, 47 million Americans--nearly one sixth of the population--were not covered with a health insurance policy in 2006. Even worse, preventable causes of death are estimated to be responsible for nearly 40% of mortality cases in the U.S.

Cost of Being Uninsured

It's common sense that people who are healthy spend less money on healthcare. And health insurance companies emphasize preventive care, which helps maintain good overall health. Therefore, by helping to keep their members healthy, health insurance companies keep costs low; it makes sense for everybody.

But for many of the uninsured, preventive care services are simply too expensive. After all, a simple visit to the doctor's office can cost hundreds of dollars without health insurance. Many put off seeing a doctor until they're in extreme pain and forced to visit an emergency room.

Here are a few examples of the cost of being uninsured:

  • A 3-day hospital stay - $27,984
  • Burst appendix - $48,151
  • Knee surgery and aftercare - $48,302

Source: Blue Cross

Glowing Praise for Preventive Care

Medical professionals across the globe and political icons from both sides of the aisle have spoken out in favor of preventive care.

President Barack Obama has called for expansion of preventive care benefits, arguing that "too little is spent on prevention and public health." Former Senator John Edwards was quoted in the New England Journal of Medicine as saying "study after study shows that primary and preventive care greatly reduces future health care costs, as well as increasing patients' health." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supports a health initiative that focuses on "wellness, not sickness." Former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee has said preventive care "would save countless lives, pain and suffering by the victims of chronic conditions."

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