A strategy to help keep insurance co-pays down

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So far, knock wood, my doctor bills are low, something I’m grateful for and which, I’m certain, is cause for celebration among the actuaries at the health insurance company that covers the expenses beyond my co-pay.

Of course, the less we all see the doctor, the lower our community’s health care bill will be.

Unfortunately, we don’t all eat and drink in moderation and too few of us exercise adequately, if at all.

Last fall, I joined the board of the local American Heart Association, and in that role, agreed to promote the AHA’s Simple 7 program, an online health assessment tool that should serve as a wake-up call to millions of Americans.

If only they’d take the test, that is.

I generally don’t make New Year’s resolutions but figured the start of 2011 was a good time as any to take the test. My score? A 4.7. In other words, pretty miserable. I didn’t think I’d get a perfect 10 but was hoping for at least an 8 or maybe a 7.

I expected a better score because while I’m not at my college weight, I’m only about 20 pounds heavier than I’d like to be. I also thought my score would be higher because I don’t smoke, I don’t eat fast food much (probably fewer than a half-dozen times in the past year), and I don’t drink sugar-laden sodas.

So how to explain my 4.7?

Well, my Simple 7 results are pretty clear about it.

At 6-foot, 198 pounds, my body mass index is nearly 27. That’s a couple of points above ideal. My blood pressure isn’t off the charts but with a systolic rate of 138, there’s a pretty good chance of developing hypertension. In fact, the tables say I’m already pre-hypertensive. My total cholesterol is under 178, which is fine. But my “good” cholesterol level, the HDL reading, is under 50, which puts me at risk of developing heart disease.

Oh, and I’m not getting enough physical activity and while I have decent eating habits, I am in no way eating enough fruit and veggies.

As health experts will tell you, I’m not alone, far from it, which is a bit surprising in a city that promotes itself as one of the fittest in the nation. As reported on these pages in June, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ranks El Paso County 29th out of Colorado’s 56 counties for overall health outcomes.

Nationally, the statistics are even more alarming. According to the AHA:

Nearly 40 percent of Americans think they are in ideal heart health, when in reality less than 1 percent actually are.

More than 33 percent of adults 20 years and older have high blood pressure.

Nearly a quarter of adults still smoke, while nearly 20 percent of high school-age children report using tobacco.

More than 67 percent of adults are overweight.

That’s a lot of bad news. The good news here is that none of the steps I need to take require huge changes in behavior.

Yes, I need to spend more time exercising but that shouldn’t be hard because I love hiking and live minutes from a ton of trails. And there’s a treadmill in the basement. I also need to eat more fish, but, again, that’s not an issue.

For a variety of reasons, a lot of us have a tough time making these sorts of changes. I doubt I’ll live as cleanly as I should. But I’ll make a good-faith effort, because the alternative doesn’t appeal to me.

The AHA made it easy to learn where I stand. Its online Simple 7 tool also helped me quickly develop a plan to make the adjustments I need to get “heart-healthy.”

And I really liked one small yet important bit of advice I found on the AHA website: I don’t need to try to make more than one change at a time, because even the smallest changes can yield positive results.

I’ll go back to the AHA website at the end of the first quarter to re-take the Simple 7 and see how I’ve fared. Look for a progress report from me at that point. Until then, you can find your own heart score by going to www.heart.org/MyLifeCheck. I encourage everyone to do this, whether as part of a New Year’s resolution or not.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at allen.greenberg@csbj.com or 719-329-5206.