If I Stay Healthy Now, Will I Save a Ton of Money on Healthcare Later?

Probably — but once you hit your 50s, those medical bills are coming either way.

StupisMoney_Healthcare

We’re all gonna get old someday — there’s no getting around it. Sure, you’ll have the privilege of saying whatever you want and getting generous discounts on stuff, but otherwise, aging comes with a whole lotta issues. We’re talking health stuff, obviously.

Since this is our money column, we’re wondering: If you take better care of yourself now, will you save yourself a whole bunch on medical expenses in the future? Let’s peer through our thumb print-smeared half-rim glasses into the future.

What can a guy do, health-wise, to save money in the long run?
The main line of thinking here has to do with preventive care — that is, seeing a doctor regularly, rather than waiting till things go down, at which point you rush to the ER, and especially if you’re uninsured, get a medical bill that bankrupts you. It’s one of the principles of Obamacare, and logically, it makes sense — it’s kind of along the lines of what that guy on the $100 bill said one time, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The thinking goes like this: When you see a doctor regularly, he or she will tell you, or remind you, to lose weight, check your blood pressure or whatever. By losing weight, watching what you eat, giving up stuff like cigarettes and binge drinking, etc., you’ll prevent heart disease, diabetes or something in the future. This means you’ll spend less time in doctors’ offices and spend far less money on blood-sucking insurance company bills.

Sounds great, right?

The reality, however, is more complicated.

Yeah, I’ve heard that preventive care may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Is that true?
Like a Facebook romance where only one person’s actually interested: It’s complicated. For one thing, not all preventive care involves your doctor simply looking at your tongue, listening to your heart and telling you to eat your vegetables. Some of that stuff is expensive — colonoscopies, for example. And since we’re talking about spending when you’re young to save when you’re old, it’s worth remembering that a lot of these expensive scans and screenings start being recommended when you hit 50ish, which means that you’ll already be on the older side when these bills hit, even though you’re trying your best to be preventive. Basically, either way, there’s no getting around spending more money on healthcare when you’re older.

Things also get complicated on a macro scale. Think about smoking from a national-health perspective: Raising taxes on cigarettes, say, which is certainly a preventive medicine — or at least wellness-driven — type of policy. But fewer buyers not only means less cigarette tax revenue for the government’s healthcare coffers, it also means more people will live longer, and live on Medicare, i.e., health insurance paid for by the government.

But surely seeing a doctor regularly helps a bit?
Yes, certainly. Think about chronic diseases: Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, the things that most people die of. They’re all expensive as hell to treat. What do doctors recommend to delay or prevent them? Pretty basic stuff: Don’t smoke; drink less; sleep well; eat vegetables; exercise 30 minutes a day; be mindful.

Now, wanna know how much a heart attack costs? It might give you one. According to the National Business Group on Health, it could run $760,000 to $1 million — or $38,000 to $50,000 per year, amortized over 20 years. Not even a steady diet of organic groceries or a fancy gym membership will cost you that.

Fair enough. So how much will preventive care really save me?
For guys in particular, think about testicular cancer. A study on this showed that it costs roughly $50,000 for treatment. That’s equal to more than 300 routine office visits; 180 to 190 office visits with ultrasound; or around 80 office visits with ultrasounds and labs. Likewise with HPV: Throat cancer could easily cost $20,000 or more — a hell of a lot more than the vaccine, which costs $500 max. People with chronic diseases — which, by the way, half of adult Americans now have, and which are responsible for 85 percent of healthcare costs — cost on average five times more than a healthy person.

Jeffrey Drope, vice president of Economic and Health Policy Research at the American Cancer Society, once said, “If you lead a healthy life (e.g., non-smoker, good nutrition, low stress, exercise, low alcohol use, good sleep habits, etc.) … you are likely to be sick less often (and to be ‘less sick’ when you get sick), which means lower medical bills. When you do get sick and die, you’re much more likely to be older, which means if you work out your final medical bills on a per year basis, they’re much less if you die at 90 (likelier) than 55. [And] you’re going to be much more productive economically: you are more likely to have more working years all around, [and] the working years you have are more likely to be more productive.”

Of course, he hastened to add that he speaks in probabilities, and some people simply suffer from bad luck. But there’s a ton of evidence to support all of these relationships that involve taking care of yourself. Which is all to say: Take care of yourself now, and yeah, the chances are you’ll be less likely to spend all your damn money on not dying when you’re older.