As Americans debate the direction of health care reform, comparisons to systems used by other industrial nations are inevitable. And the question arises: How can other countries provide arguably comparable services at lower costs, and bring every one of their citizens under the umbrella?

One answer that returns repeatedly is that other countries arenít being asked to perform as many expensive miracles as Americaís medical system is. And thatís because many other societies do a better job at taking care of themselves. They eat properly and in reasonable quantities. They are physically active. They are more disciplined at practicing preventive medicine.

If individual lifestyles help prevent a cancer, or a heart attack or stroke, the health care system is freed to deal with situations that might not have been preventable. Health care costs go down, but the real bonus comes through a healthier population and lives that are more enjoyable and productive.

Americans can take pride in the fact that whenever a critical medical situation develops somewhere in the world, itís the United States where patients come to receive the best care. But the vast majority of doctor and hospital visits are not that complex.

Whatever direction health care reform takes among lawmakers, it is apparent that some belt-tightening is in order, in more ways than one. Americans may soon see insurers demanding more of those for whom they write policies by offering incentives for not smoking, eating properly and participating in age-appropriate physical activities. Itís a good prescription, and one that doesnít take a doctorís signature to fill.

The era of living however you want and doing whatever you will, and letting modern medicine fix it up when the day of reckoning arrives may be near an end.

Brownwood Bulletin