How Much Is Your Health Worth?


I think a lot about the cost of “health” care (more on those quotation marks soon).  How many dollars will I exchange in return for expert help in restoring my health?  Why does it cost so much and is there somewhere I can get help for less money?  Does bargain shopping when we are talking about my health even matter?  I think about, read about, and try to work out these questions all the time.  Let me tell you a story . . .

I put health in quotes above, because here in the U.S. I don’t believe we have a true health care system.  We have a sick care system.  If you are very, very sick, our system will nurse you.  If it is an emergency and it is acute, our system is very good, for a high price, at fixing it (i.e., car accident, broken femur, fixed!)  If it is a more chronic issue, the odds aren’t as good and the price is likely to be even higher.  Occasionally our system will nurse you back to health, often it will actually cause you to get sicker, but most of the time it will nurse you to a state of tolerability.  You have not regained health, but you have been numbed to the most severe symptoms of your illness. 

A glaring example of this “state of tolerability” that I can think of easily is depression.  If you are even mildly depressed, out comes the prescription pad for one of the many selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs, like Paxil.  The Paxil will make the most of whatever serotonin (feel good neurotransmitter) you have laying around your body, making your depression somewhat more tolerable.  Nevermind that if your body is not making enough the best long-term approach to restoring your health might be to discover why, not just make better use of the tiny amount that’s leftover.  Nevermind that 95% of our serotonin is produced in the gut (maybe the doctor should take a look there?) or that depression is not a sign that our bodies suddenly have unacceptably low levels of Paxil, but rather some other true deficiencies (Vitamin D, B12, maybe a need for Magnesium anyone?).   (Click on this and this for some source info.)

What if you find the state of tolerability completely intolerable though?  When I got to the point that I was suffering with crippling depression and anxiety (along with many other increasingly scary symptoms), I became furious over the “let’s make it tolerable” approach that I was getting from the medical system.  I knew there was something more seriously wrong with me.  I wanted to discover that something and then take whatever action I could to fix it.  I wanted long-term health, not a band-aid.  How much would that cost? 

In short, it has cost my family dearly.  The actual dollars and cents of getting help are staggering.  We don’t have good retirement funds in place due to those costs.  We don’t have adequate personal savings due to those costs.  We are in our mid-30’s, but have yet to start saving for a down payment on a home, due to those costs.  Our student loans are a burden (that’s a whole other story, right?), in part because we have also shouldered high medical costs.  Health care costs are a major cause of individual bankruptcy in the U.S., so I know we aren’t alone.  (Click on this for some source info.) 

I think this cost burden is particularly hard on the autoimmune community.  Guess what?  Our diseases are some of the most difficult to identify and the path to diagnosis can be agonizingly long, an average of 8-11 years for Celiacs alone.  We see doctor after doctor, submit to heaps of testing, are hospitalized, wind up in the E.R. repeatedly, and are often told that we need to add expensive psychiatric care to the regimen on our protracted journey to know what is wrong.  If we are lucky enough to be well insured, we can keep this up for awhile, but often we don’t get answers.  That’s when we turn to the non-traditional system, which in my experience, mostly does not or can not take insurance.  These providers are often the ones that help us the most, particularly in finding and treating root causes, so we pony up the cash.

My husband and I roughly estimate that we spent $10,000 during 2011-2012 alone trying to restore my good health (when I do the math, I actually think we are being very conservative with that number).  Some of that was co-pays and our portion of hospital and E.R. bills, some of it was to alternative practitioners, lots of it was for valuable lab tests that were not covered by insurance, some of it was for the myriads of high-quality supplements I’ve tried, some of it was for complementary treatments, like chiropractic, physical therapy, etc.  This does not even come anywhere close to the costs paid by the insurance company and does not consider our monthly health insurance premium or my husband’s employer’s share of that premium.  Some of it was cash out-of-pocket, goodbye savings account.  Some of it was in the form of debt, hello credit card bills.  We have not even begun to account for lost work hours, the high costs of medical evacuations from West Africa, or the months on end we ran not one, but two, households, so that I could remain in the U.S., close to medical facilities.

Here’s the thing . . . to this point, it has all been worth it.  My health is worth a lot.  A LOT.  Nothing else matters if you don’t have your health.  It’s easy to take that for granted when you are well, but dramatically obvious when you are unwell long-term.  I couldn’t enjoy all the things we could have done with the money we’ve spent on health care, if I couldn’t leave my bed anyway, right?  There were gains for all those dollars.  I got a diagnosis, a name for my enemy defined every step moving forward.  I learned an incredible amount about the limits of the traditional medical system and the benefits of the non-traditional system.  The enormous expense forced me to take action and responsibility, to be a full participant in my own care.  I learned how to read lab results and how different treatments actually worked.  My efforts to heal lead me to the Autoimmune Protocol and Paleo.  That was an empowering breakthrough and it might not have happened if I wasn’t so concerned by the ever increasing medical bills.

All that said, the pricing of our system is totally unethical.  If you are in the middle of the health care cost spiral right now, hang in there.  You are valuable and your good health is worth the expense.  Watch carefully for and make the most of what you are gaining.  Take as much action on your own behalf as possible.  There is a lot you can do to “heal thyself.”

About Angie Alt

Angie Alt is part of the blogging duo behind Autoimmune Wellness. She helps others take charge of their health the same way she took charge of her own after suffering with Celiac and other autoimmune diseases; one creative, nutritious meal at a time. Her special focus is on mixing “data with soul” by looking at the honest heart of the autoimmune journey (which sometimes includes curse words). She’s also a world traveler who has been medically evacuated from two foreign countries. Strategizing worst-case scenarios is now something of a hobby. She is a Certified Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and author of The Alternative Autoimmune Cookbook: Eating for All Phases of the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol. You can also find her on Instagram.


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