In tough times, lots of folks think that when it comes to health care, tightening the purse strings, letting folks fend for themselves and advocating tough love (or not so much tough love as just tough noogies) is the smart way to proceed. It’s, well, responsible, is what gets said.
We say, yes, front-end, cost-cutting measures are responsible … for increased health risks, higher health costs and expenditures, and a reduced economic base. Not really what most people want or think they’re advocating!
Turns out there’s no time like the present to expand the love in your heart and in your budget. There are enormous benefits gained physically, emotionally and economically when you reach out to help others and support programs that do that too. Over and over, studies have shown that a generous, social and compassionate approach to your neighbors’ problems returns a bounty of benefits to YOU and society.
On a Social Level
Health-care costs in this country are out of control; we all know that. In fact, according to the Commonwealth Fund, we spend more per capita than other high-income countries, with worse results (lower life expectancy, worse health). We have ever-more folks developing chronic diseases, and we spend 84 percent of all health-care dollars on such conditions, many of which are preventable. But does that mean we should spend less on programs that measurably improve people’s health? Not by a long shot.
A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, titled Economic effects of medicaid expansion in Michigan, found that contrary to expectations (of some folks), even though the state’s cost of expanding Medicaid coverage to more than 640,000 low-income people will hit $399 million in 2021, the economic benefit of providing the health care will more than make up for it.
It seems the expansion generates jobs — lots of them — and that brings in an additional $150 million a year in revenues to the state from income and sales taxes.
The study also shows that this year the state’s economic windfall from the expansion (including health care expenditure savings picked up by the federal government) will be $432 million. It declines as the state has to pick up more costs of the program, but will still be $162.3 million in 2021. And none of that takes into account the enormous health benefits (and reduction in health-care costs) to people whose lives are made far, far less stressful and who receive improved medical care, which helps prevent chronic diseases. In Michigan, expanding Medicaid pays huge dividends!
Then there’s the study in the American Journal of Public Health in 2015, which found that states with a generous unemployment compensation payment reduced unemployed men’s reported health problems! Together, these studies demonstrate that you can save money and improve people’s health by spending money on programs that expand health-care coverage and improve economic stability.
On a Personal Level
Increasing your feelings of affection and connection stimulates production of the hormone oxytocin — the love juice that bonds mother and child, and makes partners feel like cuddling. But the hormone does more than give you a warm glow. It helps keep muscles strong, reduces bodywide inflammation (a chronic disease generator!) and dispels loneliness, a big contributor to cardiovascular woes.
Extending yourself generously also boosts optimism and reduces stress. When generosity helps reverse the effects of chronically elevated stress hormones, it eases elevated blood pressure and blood sugar, protects your circulatory and immune systems and helps keep your brain sharper.
Another way it helps? Generosity — say, by donating money and time — protects your health by making you feel that you can make a difference, and that feeling of positively affecting your world creates happiness. That’s one of the best health elixirs there is.
In short, supporting a cause that matters to you, helping a neighbor and extending kindness make the RealAge of the person you help younger, while making your RealAge younger, too.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of The Dr. Oz Show, and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into The Dr. Oz Show or visit www.sharecare.com.