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New Year's Resolution: Prevention

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Happy New Year, Happy Kwanzaa!

Every year-end I get calls and letters from readers asking how to get healthy in the New Year. Year after year I agonize and ponder hoping to respond with something the likes of a magic bullet.

Unfortunately there is no magic bullet. But this year I'm putting my dollars on disease prevention.

The numbers are staggering. Medicare spending is expected to double by 2016 to $862.7 billion.

U.S. health care spending is approaching $2 trillion a year, and is also expected to double in the next 10 years.

Driving the increases is the treatment of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart and lung diseases. They are the leading causes of death in the U.S and they are largely preventable -- 80 percent of the risk factors are behavior-related. People smoke, eat too much, and don’t exercise. Their unhealthy lifestyles increase the chances of developing deadly and costly diseases.

If our health care system could pump more money into programs that help prevent people from getting sick in the first place, it would dramatically reduce the overall cost of care.

And when people are sick, if we could target more resources to helping them manage their illness -- rather than waiting for the next crisis that requires hospitalization and treatment -- we could help reduce health care costs and have healthier people.

One of the problems is that doctors, nurses and other care providers don't have adequate financial incentives to focus on prevention. There are some 15,000 reimbursement codes under our Medicare system, and only a handful is for preventive care. Rather, the system today is designed around treating patients once they become sick.

Living a healthier life through prevention is easier said than done. But it can be done, and is being done by hundreds of thousands of people. There are plenty of free and low cost programs designed to help you prevent disease. Unfortunately most aren't sexy and don't drive up health care costs.

In 2012, buck the trend. Resolve to live longer and healthier through prevention of disease. Make your New Year's resolution to tap into prevention. Ask your doctor or health care provider this question. How can I prevent myself from becoming sick? That'll give them something to chew on!

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