Since 1850 average life expectancy has increased in the US. The primary reason for this has not been our much vaunted, and equally maligned, medical system. The primary reason for increasing life expectancy has been effective treatments for most infectious diseases, improved sanitation, and healthier diets - though over the past 30 years we've been doing our best to destroy the dietary aspect. Drugs, surgery, and all the other artifacts of modern medicine have had little to do with it.
Assuming that societal goals for health care focus on maintaining the best health and longest life span for the greatest number of people, here's a short lesson in how to improve health while decreasing health care cost (or should I say death avoidance costs?)
1. Outlaw the use of refined sugar and grains. Refined sugars and grains are simple carbohydrates that our bodies have not learned to deal with properly in our evolution. As a result, they have led to increases in diabetes and associated health problems such as cardiovascular disease and eyes. Their intake, which averages over two pounds per person per week in the US, has also been implicated in depressing immune system function.
2. Outlaw the use of antibiotics in animal feeds. There is a direct correlation between the overuse of antibiotics and the multiplication of drug resistant infectious organisms. The organisms are winning. This would have the added benefit or treating animals more humanely. Factory farms such as we see now would not be possible.
3. Outlaw tobacco products. Tobacco's role in increasing the chances of developing lung diseases is all too clear. Like refined sugars, it also decreases immune system function and plays a role in cardiovascular dysfunction.
4. Provide health care, nutritional aid, and dietary education to all expectant mothers and preventative health care such as immunizations, basic physicals, infectious disease treatment, and nutritional aid to all children. Prenatal development and the early years are all important in providing the needed basis for good health in later years. This should be available to everyone in these two populations.
5. Notice: Purposefully controversial. Limit Medicare payments to a lifetime sum. Private health insurance has a lifetime maximum. The same should apply to public health insurance. The medical system for senior citizens isn't health care, it's death avoidance.
I'm not a fan of outlawing things. The government has little business in our lives. However, the system is set up such that the results of individual actions are borne by groups, not individuals. In other words, we have health insurance (arguably a major cause of skyrocketing health care costs). That being the case, enforcable procedures need to be in place to prevent the actions of a few from affecting the many.
Ignoring societal policy, the first three items in the list can be done by any individual. To this add the following and you've got an optimal personal health program
1. Stretch and engage in mild cardiovascular exercise on a regular basis. Yoga, tai chi, walking, swimming are all adequate.
2. Engage in activities to decrease stress. Meditation and putting yourself in situations where you can laugh are optimal for this.
3. Eat a good diet. You don't have to be a vegetarian. Due its difficulty in supplying all the B-complex vitamins you need, a purely vegan diet is actually a bad idea, especially for children. Do minimize your use of animal protein and fats, though, as these are hard on the system, especially for sedentary people. Optimally, eat a vegetarian diet that includes the use of eggs and milk products. If you do eat meat, keep it minimal. One cheeseburger supplies all the protein you need in a day's time.