News/Media Center

July 21, 2003

Choices we make regarding lifestyles, safety play a role in health care costs
- by Ralph H. Weber, M.D., Vice president, medical affairs, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas

Each day, Kansans are faced with choices that can affect their overall health, or the health of a family member. Oftentimes, the decisions we make can either add to the rising cost of health care or can help control costs for everyone.

Each year, millions of Americans are rushed to emergency rooms to receive treatment for serious injuries that could have been prevented. Simply buckling a seatbelt, strapping on a bicycle helmet or ensuring that children have proper athletic equipment and training could prevent thousands of accidental injuries each year. Taking these steps would save billions of dollars in health care costs.

Consider that wearing a bicycle helmet reduces the risk of serious head injury by as much as 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent. And that the simple act of buckling up can improve your chances of surviving an automobile crash by as much as 73 percent and can significantly decrease your risk of serious injury.

There are many other personal choices that we make that affect our individual health and well-being, and that contribute to the cost of health care for everyone.

One of the most obvious choices is making the decision to smoke tobacco or not. People who choose to smoke are making a negative health choice for themselves and the people with whom they live. It is well-documented that those who smoke place themselves at a higher risk for many serious conditions, including cancer, heart disease and stoke. Smoking also can further complicate other chronic conditions.

In addition to the damage smokers do to their own health, smoking also hurts those around them. Exposure to cigarette smoke at home increases many health risks for the non-smoking adults and children in the household. Children of smokers are at a significantly higher risk for developing asthma, pneumonia, ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome, meningitis and learning problems.

The choices we make that involve the use of illegal drugs, unprotected sex and the excessive use of alcohol can also have serious health consequences that contribute to the rising cost of health care for all of us.

We all have a role to play in keeping health care affordable. And because we all pay for the rising cost of health care through increased premiums, copayments and deductibles, we all have a stake as well. Here are some ways you can help control health care costs through safety and prevention:

  • If you smoke, quit. If you don’t quit, at least smoke away from other family members.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink, and never drink and drive.
  • Wear a seatbelt; make sure all child restraint systems are properly installed, and make sure your passengers “buckle up.”
  • Always use protective gear when riding a motorcycle or bike, as well as when you rollerblade, skateboard or skate.
  • Make sure you and the children in your life use the proper protective gear when participating in sports and water activities.
  • Wear a sunscreen.
  • Install and periodically check smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in your home.
  • Practice safe sex, and seek medical treatment if you think you have a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Store all household cleaners and poisons out of the reach of children.
  • Keep guns locked up.

We could avoid the expense of unnecessary medical care if more of us choose these healthy and preventive options.


Ralph H. Weber, MD, is vice president of medical affairs for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. He spent 10 years in private practice in Salina before joining the health insurer in 1988. He was promoted to vice president in 1990.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. BCBSKS is the state's largest health insurer, serving all Kansas counties except Johnson and Wyandotte.