ORLAND, Maine — No matter what side of the issue you’re on, there is reason to be optimistic about health care in the U.S. after the approval of the health care reform legislation.
That’s what Dr. Erik Steele told a gathering of Bucksport area businesspeople Friday evening at the Bucksport Bay Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting held in the Alamoosook Lakeside Inn. Steele is the chief medical officer for Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems and is on the staff of several hospital emergency rooms in the region. He also is the interim CEO at Blue Hill Memorial Hospital.
“Finally, for the first time, all of us will be insured,” he said.
Although health insurance is a critical factor in maintaining good health, it is not the only factor, Steele said. Individual responsibility and community involvement also will have to play a role if the country is to establish a sustainable health care system.
“If you want healthy communities, you have got to get involved,” he said. “The federal government is not going to save you; the state is not going to save you.”
Businesspeople need to support healthy community initiatives, just as individuals need to take responsibility for their own health care.
“You need to partner with people for a healthy community,” he said. “You need to support it, to practice it, to incentivize it.”
Exercise is a key and a way for individuals to take some responsibility for their own health, he said.
“If you’re overweight, if you could lose 10 pounds, it will drop your blood pressure, it will lower your blood sugar and reduce the risk of diabetes,” he said, adding that business owners can support that kind of initiative.
Individuals need to become smarter health care shoppers, according to Steele.
“We’re going to need to shop for value for health care,” he said. “We need to shop for price and quality.”
He pointed out that the price of a colonoscopy can vary widely among Maine hospitals — from $4,500 in one hospital to $1,800 in another.
“We need to become shoppers,” he said.
Patients also will need to ask more questions of their physicians.
“You need to ask your doctor, ‘Do I need that test?’ or ‘Why am I taking this pill?’” he said.
Health insurance, he said, should drive more people to have a regular primary care physician, who will be more likely to become familiar with each patient and thus provide better care for that patient as opposed to someone who relies on an emergency room visit for primary care. At the same time, he said, all Americans ought to pay a portion of their health care costs.
“Everybody should have some skin in the game,” he said. “If you’re going to the ER at 3 a.m. you ought to pay part of that. But we also need to align financial incentives for what we want people to do. We need to incentivize them to do the right thing.”
Steele also said that as a nation, we need to focus on children’s health and particularly on the problem of childhood obesity. This generation, he said, is the first in the history of the country that is predicted to have a shorter life span than their parents.
Steele said there is a direct correlation between screen time — whether it’s in front of a computer or television — and overweight. The recommendation is two hours of screen time a day, maximum.
“If it’s more than that, shut it off,” he said.
He also urged parents to remember the 5-2-1-0, system: That’s five fruits and vegetables a day, two hours maximum of screen time, at least one hour of physical activity and zero sugar drinks,” he said. “There’s a direct correlation between sugar drinks and the amount of obesity.
“Remember 5-2-1-0; go save America’s children,” he said.
Steele was the featured speaker at the annual meeting, which was attended by approximately 100 Chamber members.
The event included presentation of the Chamber’s annual awards. Vancil Eye Care of Bucksport received the New Business of the Year Award; Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust was named nonprofit of the year; and Frank’s Barbershop of Bucksport was named business of the year. Andy Lacher, owner of BookStacks in Bucksport, received the Hans Honder Award.