Goldberg: Health care reform is doomed from the start by semantics

I want to talk about the very phrase "health care" itself: In the United States we do not have a "health care" system, but rather a "sick care" system, and that is the key issue in the debate.

Simply put, it is the job of individuals within the health care system to make well those who are ill, injured or otherwise not functioning in accordance with their normal level of health. A doctor doesn't keep you well, but he or she fixes you when you are broken, and when you are broken, the remedy is usually a nice quick fix of medication.

In fact, sometimes you can be lucky enough to be prescribed medication when you're not "broken" or suffering from an ailment that doesn't actually require medication to treat. How exciting!

But think about that: Wouldn't it make more sense to put a majority of our energy into preventing people from becoming sick in the first place, to promote health instead of treating illness? You don't have to pay to treat something if you prevent it from manifesting in the first place. That would be a system worthy of the descriptive title, "health care."

This change is necessary, but would require a shift in the fundamental values of Americans. The current retroactive system is a product of a quick-fix hungry society of shortsighted decision makers. I'm not saying that from atop a shining pedestal; I am part of the culture that I am writing about.

At this particular point in time, Americans are disregarding their health when making daily decisions. When you decide to eat a double cheeseburger with fries (and of course a diet soda) for lunch, spend a half an hour on Facebook, not exercise during a free block of time, go to bed at three in the morning when you have to be up at seven for class, or skip washing your hands before you touch the food that you're about to consume, you are making a decision that affects your health, whether you consider this dimension of the effects of your decisions or not.

This is the first step to real health care - health and well-being must be at the top of everyone's priority list. Doctors, teachers and, most importantly, parents must educate children and try to help each other to reach this mentality.

As a martial arts instructor, a big part of my job is interacting with the parents of the younger students whom I teach. I also promote a healthy, active lifestyle to all of my students, both children and adults.

Believe it or not, I have more of an effect on changing the day-to-day habits of my adult students than I do on the children. It is easier to teach someone to behave differently as an adult than to try as an authority figure outside of the home to change the habitual behavior of a child. If mom and dad don't promote a healthy lifestyle at home, there is only so much teachers and doctors can say that will affect a child's routine.

Having considered this, it is still the responsibility of adults to promote healthy lifestyles for children, but they must teach by example. While logicians may say that a "tu quoque" argument (e.g. "Look who's talking") commits a fallacy, it is still a reality and cannot be dismissed as such.

How can you expect a child to obey your restrictions on smoking and overeating when you yourself smoke and overeat? Saying, "Just because I do it doesn't mean you can too" does not resolve the cognitive dissonance in the minds of children when what they hear is different from what they see.

To help society at large see this change, you must first start with yourself. I'm working on that right now, and I'm far from perfect at the moment.

So how can reform legislation influence this vicious cycle if it starts with individual lifestyle changes?

Well, it could start by making health education a more prominent part of the public school curriculum. There's no reason that health should always be the last subject on the priority list.

Legislation could also instruct doctors to spend more time discussing diet, exercise and sleep plans with patients during well visits in a more individual, meaningful and less artificial or formulaic way.

Finally, there should be a concerted effort to bring medicinal focus to preventative treatments, a point that President Barack Obama, thankfully, has been adamant about.

Even with legislation that focuses on preventative treatment and healthy lifestyle planning, the majority of the transformations towards a true "health care" system will not result from the government or insurance companies. As I previously mentioned, the current state of health affairs in our society is the result of a collective cultural mentality.

So long as instant gratification fuses with a conscious attempt to ignore looming problems until they become overbearing and immediate, so long as the quick-fix is valued over regular and natural maintenance and so long as we value chemical compounds and man-made technology over the potential of the natural and internal to heal and maintain health neither doctor's note nor politician's bill can truly create a healthy America.