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02/13/13 – It Comes Down to Us: Personal Responsibility and Health

by Jeanine Draut

Communications Officer, The Colorado Trust
Jeanine Draut, Communications Officer, The Colorado Trust
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Personal responsibility is often offered as an explanation and solution to health care problems: if you take care of yourself, you will have better health and your health care needs and expenses will go down. It is an important idea.

But too often, "personal responsibility" is code for "everyone for himself." Landri Taylor, a panelist at The Atlantic's event and the President and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver, challenged this idea. He says that personal responsibility means taking an active interest in the health of our families, friends and neighbors, setting a higher standard for health while supporting and encouraging people as they try to reach it.

Using the term "personal responsibility" to blame individuals for the woes of the health care system is just as distasteful and hopeless as blaming the "system." It's time to stop the blame altogether and, indeed, take some personal responsibility.

Personal responsibility takes courage. It takes courage to start an exercise program for the first time as an overweight person in super-fit Colorado. It takes courage to speak up when a medical practice expects you to pay for a service without telling you beforehand how much it will cost. It takes courage to ask a rushed doctor to explain why he prescribed this test or that medication, and the possible alternatives. It takes courage to ask our state and community leaders why people in different zip codes have radically different life expectancies.

The problems are big and overwhelming. We can't do it alone. But we can take personal responsibility and do something. Here are some things we can start to do today:

  • Let your voice be heard. Your health care is too important to be left solely to others. Project Health Colorado gives you a forum for taking personal responsibility for the health care system. Ask your questions and offer your solutions at www.projecthealthcolorado.org.
  • Start asking questions. Ask your health care providers about costs and care options. Ask why you, as an uninsured person, are charged more for a service than an insurance company is. Tell them you notice that they're doing it, and that it's not fair. This may be harder than you think at first, because we're used to accepting this non-transparent way of conducting health care business. But don't give up. You deserve the information necessary to use health care responsibly. 
  • Share your story. We often feel alone as we deal with the health and financial challenges of health care. Navigating the health care system can be terrifying and isolating. But we are all weary travelers in this system. You can make a difference just by being honest, by sharing your story to let others know they're not alone. Hear stories or tell your own at www.coloradohealthstory.org or www.floodlightproject.org.

It's time for us to take personal responsibility. Together.

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