By
President
HSA for America

Lower Lifetime
Medical Expenses

 

January 3, 2006
Vol. 2, Issue 1


By combining a lower-cost high deductible health insurance plan with tax-deductible HSA deposits, Health Savings Accounts reward consumers with lower health insurance premiums and reduced taxes. The money can then be withdrawn tax-free to pay any medical expenses. But the biggest benefits accrue to those who let their HSA funds grow tax-deferred. By taking pro-active steps to stay healthy as you age, you can dramatically reduce the odds that you will need to withdraw your HSA funds to pay medical expenses. Imagine kicking off your retirement in great health, with a chunk of money sitting in your Health Savings Account!

Health of an Average American

The health status of the average person declines rapidly as they age. About 70% of Americans have at least one symptom of metabolic syndrome, including high blood pressure, high triglycerides or cholesterol, gout, heart disease, diabetes, and cancers of the breast, prostate, and colon.

By the time they are 45 years old, over half of all Americans are on some regular prescription medication. Approximately half of all men are also showing signs of erectile dysfunction by this time, and about 45% of the population has fatty liver disease. Other than pain medications, the most commonly prescribed drugs for individuals in this age group are antacids, antidepressants, and drugs to control blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. These are all signs that things are not moving in the right direction.

By age 65, over 85% are afflicted with at least one degenerative disease. Two-thirds will have high blood pressure. Over 80% will have taken at least one prescription medication in the past month, and nearly half are on three or more prescriptions during any given month. Over half of all women in this age group have experienced or will experience a fracture due to osteoporosis.

By age 75, those that are still around are often on five or more medications. They typically have weakened immune systems, and their risk for cancer has gone up dramatically. Many have experienced years of hypertension, obesity, insulin resistance, a sedentary lifestyle, and inadequate nutrition. Since these are all risk factors for dementia, some experts estimate that 30% or more will come down with Alzheimer's or some other form of senility. A low quality of life is pretty typical.

Prevention is Key

The good news is that the vast majority of all this pain, suffering, and expense is preventable.

  • Cancer: Researchers from the National Cancer Institute believe that 80-95% of all cancer cases are due to environmental and lifestyle causes, and are thus preventable. Diet may be involved in at least half of all cancers, and one third of all cancers are linked to obesity.
  • Dementia: According to Mark Houston, M.D., Medical Director at the Hypertension and Vascular Biology Institute at Saint Thomas Hospital and Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, 95% of all dementia is preventable with a lifestyle approach.
  • Heart disease: 90% - 99% of all heart disease may be preventable. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal estimates a 75% reduction in cardiovascular disease can be attained simply by eating a diet which includes red wine, fish, dark chocolate, fruits and vegetables, garlic, and almonds on a regular basis.
  • Diabetes: Harvard University's Walter Willet has estimated that 92% of type-2 diabetes is preventable.

Lifestyle Strategies for 2006

Many people have a difficult time taking action now to prevent a problem that seems to be in the distant future, whether that be saving for retirement or avoiding the degenerative diseases of aging. Fortunately, most HSA owners tend to be forward-thinking people who do take responsibility for their finances and their health. If this describes you, below are the lifestyle practices that will do the most to prevent disease and premature death.

  • Maximize consumption of disease-preventing phytochemicals by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Virtually every day newly discovered plant chemicals from blueberries, garlic, beets, grapes, apples, and other plant foods are found to have health-promoting properties. Specific compounds currently being studied for their preventive effects on cancer, heart disease, dementia, and other health problems include hydroxytyrosol from olives, epigallocatechin-3 gallate from green tea, and D-glucarate and sulforaphane from broccoli. The best way to up your consumption of vegetables is to add large salads to your diet on a regular basis. (And don't bother counting potatoes when looking at your own vegetable intake.)
  • Reduce inflammation by consuming a diet low in omega-6 fat, and high in omega-3 fat. Inflammation is involved in cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, and most other degenerative diseases. The average American is in a constant state of low-grade inflammation because of the foods they eat. Omega-6 fats, which increase inflammation in the body, are found in vegetable oils such as corn oil or sunflower oil, and in meat from animals fed corn diets. Omega-3 fats, which reduce inflammation, are found in fish and wild game. In addition to eating wild cold-water fish a couple times per week, the easiest approach is to take a high-quality fish oil supplement. Inflammation is reduced within hours of consuming fish oil.
  • Lower circulating insulin by sharply limiting consumption of high-glycemic starchy foods. Sugar, white potatoes, and most foods made from grains (including bread, rice, pasta, granola, cereal, and pancakes) cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin every time they're eaten. This results in higher triglyceride levels, lower HDL (good cholesterol) levels, and an increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
  • Maintain cell membrane fluidity by avoiding all hydrogenated fats. These altered fat molecules are found in most packaged foods and most fried restaurant foods, including French fries. Eat them and they end up in your cell membranes. They raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels more than any food known, and also appear to increase the risk of many cancers, diabetes, and the leading cause of blindness, macular degeneration.
  • Maintain muscle and bone mass, and metabolic fitness by exercising regularly. Weight lifting and aerobic exercise are strongly protective against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia, in addition to helping prevent loss of bone (osteoporosis) and muscle (sarcopenia).

In 2028 I will turn 65 years old. If all goes as planned, I expect to have over $400,000 in my Health Savings Account by that time. But prevention of chronic disease is a key part of my strategy. Taking out just $200 per month to cover doctor visits and prescription drugs would reduce my total accumulation to less than $250,000.

Now is the time to make your 2006 resolutions, so it's a good time to reassess your own health habits. The above list will give you an excellent start.

If you're in good health and plan to stay that way, then an HSA is definitely the smartest way to insure yourself against unexpected medical expenses. If you do not yet have an HSA-qualified health insurance plan, please email us at info@HSAforAmerica.com, and let us know when would be a good time to discuss your situation.

 


To your health and wealth!



President - HSA for America


P.S.  Next month I'll tell you about a special test of your red blood cells called the Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid Profile. It is not covered by health insurance, but can be paid for from your HSA. Research shows that having the right score (easily obtained via diet and fish oil supplements) can reduce your risk of sudden cardiac death by 90%.

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