Commentary: Personal responsibility and the cost of health care

Why does health insurance cost so much? Because health care is expensive and growing more expensive. That was the explanation offered by a panel at the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce's Make It Monday forum, "Costs and Trends of Health Care in Alaska." The panelists mostly represented the insurance industry. Obviously the panelists are right. They also are probably right that the continued growth in health care costs is unsustainable. But this has more than a whiff of "Don't blame me if your insurance costs more than you think it should."

Several panelists, citing professional studies, said the single biggest factor in the total cost of American health care is lifestyle. It's easy to see that smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, and obesity undermine health and lead to diseases and conditions that cost billions of dollars to treat. As much as 50 percent of the dollars spent.

Panelist Jeff Davis of Premera cited the influence of "personal responsibility" on health care costs. And he's right -- to a point.

We're going to need a philosopher, not a doctor or insurance executive, to explain fully the role of personal responsibility, because it's unclear how free Americans' choices are.

The U.S. unemployment rate is 10.2 percent, highest in 26 years. Some 34.5 percent of young African American men (16-24) are unemployed. Ten percent of adults younger than 35 have moved home to their parents because they can't afford to live elsewhere.

The recession has forced a multitude of bad choices on Americans. Including, in some cases, the decision to forget preventive medicine until the credit card bills are paid.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.