Despite efforts by members of the Republican party and President Trump to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), this legislation is still in effect. However, some changes are on the way, which may have major impacts on those enrolled in ACA-based insurance policies. Perhaps the most notable development involves the individual mandate, which requires most Americans to keep a minimum level of health coverage or else face a tax penalty. Although Trump signed a bill in December 2017 eliminating tax penalties for those without insurance, this change won’t go into effect until 2019.
The individual mandate was created to help stabilize insurance risk pools by including a mix of people who are healthy, sick, young, and old, which helps keep insurance premiums low overall. According to a report by the Congressional Budget Office,13 million fewer people will be insured by 2027, and premiums may spike by 10 percent. This will have a particularly severe impact on high-need individuals who, for health reasons, can’t drop their insurance policies.
Barring future changes to the legislation, other provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will remain intact. These include access to health insurance exchanges, premium and cost-sharing credits for some individuals, and regulations that prevent insurers from denying coverage or raising rates based on health status. As premiums rise and more people are uninsured, one provision that may prove especially valuable requires most health plans to cover a set of preventative health services at no cost to the individual.
Unfortunately, it’s a common pattern for many people to wait until something is seriously wrong with their health before taking action or seeking professional help. Too often, this results in more frequent doctor visits along with expensive treatments, medications, and surgeries. Aside from the financial costs, it’s much more difficult and stressful to recover from a serious illness or injury than to make small efforts to prevent major damage in the first place.
As a society, we need to rethink the way we use our healthcare system, for the sake of our health as well as our finances. As your first line of defense, scheduling regular wellness checkups can help your doctor detect emerging conditions and help you to avoid preventable health problems. Beyond regular checkups, here are three major areas you should focus on in order to practice preventative healthcare and avoid bigger problems later on.
In addition to general wellness checkups, periodic eye exams are a crucial part of preventing and treating vision problems. It’s important to be aware of and discuss any family history of vision problems with your eye doctor. Beyond that, a number of lifestyle and environmental factors can help to determine the specific conditions you might be at risk for.
Your eyes depend on the vitamins and nutrients you get from your diet. Without a balanced diet, your eyes will be more susceptible to dryness and infection. Foods that are especially good for eye health include fish, nuts, lentils, citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, beef, and eggs. Look for foods rich in omega fatty acids as well as vitamins A, C, and E. Of course, you also need to drink plenty of water in order to stay hydrated and help prevent dry eyes.
With so much of our entertainment, social interactions, and work taking place on screens, it’s too easy to spend all our time watching shows, working with digital documents, or scanning through social media. All this screen time causes us to keep our eyes open longer than usual, allowing our eyes’ protective tear film to evaporate. To combat this, you should make a point to blink regularly. It’s also a good idea to rest your eyes for at least five minutes every hour. Taking a walk, staring out your window, or just closing your eyes can give them a well-needed rest and avoid unnecessary strain and headaches.
For those who already suffer from vision problems, there are treatments that can help restore your vision and prevent further straining and difficulty. Many common vision problems can be treated using LASIK eye surgery, including nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. Most people who choose to have this surgery experience major improvements with their eyesight, and many no longer needed to use glasses or contacts to see.
Although many people brush the recommended two times per day, we often do so incorrectly, which forfeits most of the benefits of regular brushing. In order to maintain healthy teeth and gums, you should use a toothbrush with soft bristles so as not to wear down the protective layer of enamel on your teeth. Likewise, brushing too hard also wears away at your enamel. Avoid sawing or scrubbing motions, instead brushing gently in small circular and back and forth motions to reach all surfaces of your teeth. Lightly brushing your tongue can also help to remove harmful bacteria in your mouth.
Flossing is another area many people either don’t do often enough or skip altogether. This leaves bacteria and food particles between your teeth that will remain and contribute to plaque buildup and tartar. Left alone for too long, this can lead to cavities and gum disease.
You may already know this, but limiting the amount of sugary foods in your diet will help prevent tooth decay. The bacteria in your mouth use this sugar to produce acids that weaken your enamel. Obvious foods to avoid or limit include sodas, candy, and other sugary snacks, but you should also be cautious of fresh fruits, juice, bread, and crackers.
Because every cell in your body needs oxygen to survive, repair, and grow, your respiratory system is responsible for one of the most important life-giving processes in your body. It only makes sense that you should take care of your lungs and respiratory system, yet respiratory illnesses are a major cause of preventable death around the world.
While genetic factors sometimes play a role in whether someone will develop conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), frequent exposure to air pollutants is a key factor in developing respiratory illnesses. This includes household cleaners that might include harsh chemicals with fumes that can irritate your lungs. If you work in an office without proper ventilation, cleaning chemicals might also contaminate the air at your workplace.
Of course, exposure to tobacco smoke has a huge impact on the development of preventable respiratory diseases, including COPD and lung cancer. Seeking early detection of lung cancer could mean the difference between life and death. Because of this, you might choose to schedule an early detection screening for lung cancer. These screenings can be especially effective for identifying cancer in people between 55 and 74 years of age who currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years.
As we continue to realize the benefits of preventative care, hopefully our healthcare system will continue to emphasize its importance, allowing more individuals to take advantage of available wellness programs. At least for now, policies still active within the Affordable Care Act encourage preventative care, and many of these screenings, wellness checkups, and preventative treatments are covered on insurance policies within the current U.S. healthcare system.
Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.