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Snyder to focus on wellness, prevention in healthcare message

By Rick Pluta, Michigan Public Radio Network


LANSING, MI – Governor Rick Snyder will ask Michiganders to quit smoking, lose weight and eat better in a health care message Wednesday that's expected to focus on wellness and disease prevention. The speech is expected to focus as much on identifying the problems as outlining solutions that won't cost taxpayers a lot of money.

Government can't mandate healthy lifestyles

Governor Snyder is expected to acknowledge there is not a whole lot government can do to make people live healthier lives.

"Government can't force people not to smoke," says Bill Rustem. He's the governor's policy chief, and he's helping to write the message. "We still have a significant portion of the population - something like 18 percent of adults and about the same number of young people - who smoke. Government is not going to say, you can't smoke. Government can't deal with how we eat and how much we exercise. You can't have a law that says you've got to go out and run five miles a day and nor that you have to eat certain things and certain times of the day."

But Rustem says everyone pays for people who don't take care of themselves, either through higher insurance premiums or higher taxes to pay for treating people who don't have health coverage.

Public bears cost burden

Dr. Peggy Hale sees a lot of those people. She is an emergency room physician at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing.

"Well over half of the cases that we see either aren't necessarily emergency or were preventative that were not taken care of sooner," Hale says.

Doctors here say the rising number of uninsured people is the growing strain on this emergency room. Hale says many people ignore chronic conditions and warning signs until they become a problem too big to ignore.

"We see medication non-compliance," Hale says. "We see patients that don't have primary care physicians that come in for coughs, colds, sore throats. We see patients that have let their lifestyles get the better of them where obesity and smoking tends to lower their immune system and lead to problems such as diabetes, heart disease."

Hale and other doctors at Sparrow say they've seen too many cases of once-controllable cases of diabetes, heart conditions, even cancer show up at their hospital.

Public education is vital

Governor Snyder's message is expected to focus largely on education and connecting people to existing resources to help them improve their health.

Marianne Udow directs the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation at the University of Michigan. She says the still not fully realized success of the anti-smoking campaign shows how public education efforts can help change behavior.

"That is absolutely attributed to a concerted effort at the federal level, at the state level and the local levels to do something about smoking, and it's a multi-faceted effort and we've got lots of evidence that campaign really did work," Udow says.

"There are things government can do," says Snyder advisor Bill Rustem. "There are things government can encourage people to do by rewarding them in some way, shape or form."

Rustem says the Snyder administration has identified improving people's health and controlling costs are key to improving the state's economy and the quality of life.

"Our health care costs are going up astronomically and we are becoming to a large extent a lot unhealthier," he says. "Smoking has gone down, but things like obesity have gone up. Michigan actually experienced an increase in infant mortality over the last three years, so there's significant challenges that require both institutional change and behavior change, so he's going to be talking about both those things."

Rustem says the governor will ask for at least one new government mandate: he will call on the legislature to ban smoking at beaches in state parks. He says that will expose fewer children to second-hand smoke, and help get rid of cigarette butts that contain toxins that pollute the water.

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