The cost of health care is front page news. For 2004, the cost of medical coverage is expected to increase over 15 percent, and prescription drugs as much as 18 percent, according to the Segal Company 2004 Health Plan Cost Trend Survey.

Americans spend more on health care than patients in any other industrialized nation but, according to a recent study by Rand Corporation, only receive a little more than half of the recommended care. Underuse of care is more common than overuse. Not getting the recommended care can result in serious health consequences.

The report found that people with diabetes received only about 45 percent of the care they needed. Less than 25 percent of the diabetic patients in the study regularly measured their blood sugar levels. Poor control of blood sugars can result in kidney failure, blindness and amputation of limbs.

Hypertension (high blood pressure) affects about 50 million people in the United States. Poor blood pressure control can increase a patient’s risk for heart disease, stroke and death. More than 68,000 potentially preventable deaths annually are related to hypertension.

Colorectal cancer will kill 56,730 Americans in 2004. The disease is highly preventable and can be cured in most cases when detected early. Yet, only 38 percent of the adults in the study were screened for the cancer.

Taking charge of your health!

Prevention is the key to a healthy life for Laborers and their families – on and off the job. And as patients, we need to take responsibility for our own health care. Follow your physician’s recommendation for treatment – medication, therapy or procedures. If you have concerns about the treatment, ask questions – either while you are at the doctor’s office or call back later after you get home.

Always get information from a trusted source such as your physician, health care agencies or organizations specializing in your disease or condition. Contact your health and welfare fund or check your summary plan description to see what preventive services are covered by your plan.

[Mary Jane MacArthur is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]