Lifestyle decisions and health care costs.

According to a new study by the British Journal of Cancer, over 40% of cancers are due to lifestyle decisions.

Nearly half of cancers diagnosed in the UK each year – over 130,000 in total – are caused by avoidable life choices including smoking, drinking and eating the wrong things, a review reveals.
Tobacco is the biggest culprit, causing 23% of cases in men and 15.6% in women, says the Cancer Research UK report.
Next comes a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in men’s diets, while for women it is being overweight.

This raises an interesting question concerning health care costs: who should pay? I know of no one who is opposed to the government assisting the needy for emergency care, especially when the ailment was not of one’s choosing. No child asks for leukemia. No burn victim asked the arsonist to visit. No one called and ordered an earthquake or requested that stray bullet.

But many people do choose to be unhealthy. Surely no one doubts that cigarettes cause cancer, or that excessive alcohol is bad for the heart and liver. Should those costs be socialized? If so, at what rate?

When former president and general Dwight Eisenhower had a stroke he was given the best medical care money could buy: intravenous narcotics and bed rest. Medical technology has since greatly improved, with one understandable downside. The CBO concluded that about half of all grow in the cost of health care was due to chances in medical care technology. If everyone has a right to health care, how much health care do they have a right to? Is the $50,000 procedure sufficient to protect their right to health care, or is everyone entitled to the latest medical procedure priced at $350,000, and which offers only marginal benefits over the less expensive option?

It is hard to justify – and impossible to fund – the most advanced care for everyone. (Every nation and every system must in some way ration the inherently limited care available.) But if funding were less of an obstacle, the question of how much an average taxpayer should refund remains valid. Should the non-smoker pay the bills of the smoker, the teetotaler those of the lush?

Should non-healthy lifestyles be subsidized by the healthy, or should the cost of being unhealthy rise to disincentivize the harmful behavior? Perhaps a national plan could exclude care required for lifestyle decisions as a way of controlling costs. Old and frail? We’ve got you covered. Young and smoking like a chimney? You’ll be on your own soon enough.

This is not to say that I favor a national health care plan. (I don’t.) My purpose to advance an argument against our habit of defending everyone’s "right" to everthing that is desireable, regardless of the incentives created and trade-offs ignored.


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