Saturday, September 19, 2009

Reducing risk: Your family's health

I wrote in my last post about Risk Management and health reform. Since that post I've been thinking... I wrote this:

So how can you deal with risk?

1) You can assume the risk.
2) You can get rid of the risk.
3) You can transfer (insure) the risk.

When I wrote that, I was at a loss at how to use #2 to eliminate risk as regards to health. If you're alive, you are at risk. Certainly I don't want to stop living just to "get rid of the risk."

But as I pondered, I realized that "getting rid of the risk" does not have to be an "all or nothing," it can happen in degrees.

A better questions for addressing #2 is: How can I reduce the risk?

How can I reduce the monetary risks of poor health? (Not that's a good question.)

Several years ago, my wife's dentist referred her to an periodontist to address some receding gum issues. Some surgery took place and more loomed on the horizon, but... instead of dealing with the results of poor gum health, we found a way to improve the health. In doing so we reduced the monetary risks of additional surgeries.

The improvement in monetary risk was a by-product, not the goal. In fact, our solution cost us and extra $75 a year. That's the cost of one more trip to the dental hygienist for a non-covered cleaning. Our dental insurance covers two cleanings a year, we assumed the cost of the third, and gum health has improved.

My point is we reduced risks by improving health (wellness) and lessening illness.

What illnesses cost us the most? (A mathematician named Parelli discovered that a principle called the 80/20 rule, or the Parelli principle.)

If I wrote down and ranked 10 of the main factors that put my health at risk, and I fixed the top two, my health risk could be reduced by 80%. (Thanks Parelli!)

Can I eliminate my health risk? No.
Can I significantly reduce it? Yes.

This is one of the reasons health insurance companies sponsor weight control programs and smoking cessation programs.

Some years ago I was 300% more likely to have a heart attack than the average. After trying unsuccessfully for two years to control blood pressure and cholesterol on my own, I bowed to the wishes of my doctor and went on prescription drugs. (A health care cost that was the result of my obesity.)

Two years later, I successfully lost 30 pounds, reduced my risk, and eliminated the need for prescription drugs. Now I'm less likely than average to suffer a heart attack, and the resulting losses.

I took ownership of my health issues, persisted, and lessened my risks. reports, "Almost 10 Percent of U.S. Medical Costs Tied to Obesity."

What's the #1 cause of premature death (more than 400,000 per year)?


The hidden costs of smoking are shared by individuals, families, and society. Who pays?

"These are costs we all pay in higher taxes to fund government health care programs, like Medicare, and in higher health insurance premiums," said John R. Seffrin, PhD, Chief Executive Officer of the American Cancer Society.

What's my point?

Risk management on health issues isn't just about the cost of transferring the risk via insurance. It's also about reducing risks by investing in your family's wellness.

Nutrition, exercise, sleep, hydration, clean air...

Improving health and reducing health costs are like a teeter-totter. You reduce health risks, and you add healthy habits.

You can tip the balance in your favor and thus manage your risk.

You haven't eliminated the risks, but the actuaries will tell you, you've improved your chances of living a long and healthy life.

Whatever route the government takes on health care, I can chart my own. So can you.


  1. I like your proactive view of how to manage health and costs. Don, it is very admirable how you made the conscious effort to regain control of your health and wellness. I'm finding these posts on risk management to be very informative. Thanks Don! I feel like I'm benefiting from a free seminar :)

    By the way, I'm really enjoying our poetry jams. I love your "sailing poetic" contribution. I appreciate your insight about getting through my typical mom worries :)

  2. Great post, Don. There is a lot of good sense here. And congrats on losing the weight and getting off the meds! If only I could get Mac to quit smoking, I'd feel a lot better myself.

  3. Liked you picture of the salad. It was very healthy looking.

  4. We are our own worst enemies. We've been set up to fail just by the nature of medicine that we practice in the U.S. We tradionally do not see a physician until there is something wrong with us. Now we have tried to change that thought process with our preventive programs but the consumer/medical profession is slow to buy into thsi practice. Big money for the medical profession/pharmaceuticals. Plus isn't it easier to get a pill, make it better and I didn't have to do anything at all. Lazy American perhaps...

  5. @September: "I like your proactive view of how to manage..." (Thanks.) It's too easy to sit back and criticize without engaging in solution-finding. Whatever the problem, there are lots of solutions to try. Edison was wrong hundreds of times in his attempts to create a light-bulb. But instead of cursing the darkness... he persisted... and there was light.

    I enjoy the poetry jams as well!

    @Deedee: Thanks. Eli Goldratt, a business consultant and author, writes that when others say, "That's common sense..." it means that you've hit on a good solution.

    Mac & smoking... Since we can't change others... "I choose to feel hopeful about Mac's habits, health, and future..." (Affirm that!)

    @Dennis: The salad pictured is typical of one I'm trying to eat once a day. I learned this summer what kind of salad I like: baby spinach, raisins, sunflower seeds, broccoli, dried cranberry, and apple cider vinegar. It's healthy and tasty. One way to fight over-eating is to give your body good nutrition. (I add a piece of chicken for protein... and I have a meal.)

    @Glo: I think you've hit on much of what's wrong with how we Americans practice healthcare. Very little of it is preventative. Too often we want drive-through, quick fix, give-me-a-pill solutions, and that's what we get. Problem is... often, we're not getting at the root problem... Why not? Often, it's for the reason you give: laziness... or at least, poor health habits. That's why I have so many affirmation posts: affirmations are a way of getting myself to improve my habits.