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Rising Health Care Costs Are Everyone’s Responsibility, Says Health Insurance CEO

By Jane Nicholson

092104ceoO_dl.jpgBOONE–If you’re fed up with the rising costs of health care, first look at what you’re doing to contribute to the problem. That’s the message from Robert Greczyn Jr., president and chief executive officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Speaking to students and others attending the Boyles Distinguished CEO Lecture Series at Appalachian State University, Greczyn said everyone owns a piece of the problem.

” As a society, we are overweight and we’re lazy,” he said. Citing health statistics, Greczyn said an estimated one in four North Carolinians is obese, almost double the state’s obesity rate 10 years ago. Obesity in adolescents has almost tripled in the last 20 years. And one-third of the cases of Type 2 diabetes being diagnosed today are in children.

“North Carolina is one of the worst states in the country for obesity, diabetes and lack of physical activity,” he said. He called obesity and diabetes the scourge of the 21st century.

” This generation of children may be the first generation of children in history to have a shorter lifespan than their parents,” he said.

But some simple steps can help reverse what Greczyn calls an epidemic, and in turn reduce the cost of health care.

” The fact is, some of our health care costs are related to our own behavior and are largely preventable,” he said. “Fifty-three percent of deaths in North Carolina last year were deemed preventable, which means we are doing these things to ourselves.”

Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day can reduce the risk of heart disease, colon cancer and hypertension, Greczyn said.

” If we all gave up one sitcom or rerun a night to walk around the block, we would have a better quality of life and we would save a huge amount of money,” he said.

Instead, citizens have abdicated their responsibility for their own health, doing whatever they want to do and eating whatever they want to eat, believing that medicine will be there to save them, Greczyn said.

Health care costs are rising, Greczyn said, because people are going to the doctor’s office more often and being prescribed more medicines for ailments that are often preventable. In addition, people are failing to follow preventive health measures, such as scheduling yearly check ups, which means that costly ailments such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure go undetected.

” People have a direct result on what their insurance premiums are. That’s what drives the increase in insurance premiums,” he said.

For that reason, more of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s products focus on disease management and preventative services.

” Only 8 percent of our members regularly seek preventive health services,” Greczyn said. “That’s because they feel good. You can’t feel diabetes until it’s too late, or heart disease until something goes wrong. We are failing at getting people to understand the importance of preventative health care.”

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Picture Caption: Robert Greczyn Jr. talked about individuals’ responsibilities in curbing rising health care costs at the Boyles CEO Lecture Series at Appalachian State University. Greczyn is president and chief executive officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. (Appalachian photo by University Photographer Mike Rominger)