Family Matters

In the federal government, HHS used to mean the Department of Health and Human Services. But employees of the department say the abbreviation now stands for Hillary's Health Service. The coining of the new nickname signals that the White House is taking a keen interest in the department. And no wonder: Over the past two decades, per capita spending on health care has climbed more than five times faster than productivity—with government spending on health care rising even faster. Hillary Clinton is now poised to try to solve the problem as head of a national task force on health care, which is expected to recommend some form of managed competition. But as Forbes magazine warns, government regulation consistently drives costs up. And that means government-regulated health care may end up costing more instead of less. So before we jump into costly experiments in government-run health care, perhaps we ought to look first at what's pushing prices up in the first place. The factor most frequently overlooked, says Bryce Christensen of the Rockford Institute, is the moral factor: Study after study shows that health costs go up when families break down. Christensen cites several studies spanning hundreds of years and several cultures. One study examines mortality rates in Europe over the past 400 years; another examines records in 26 developed countries. And across the board, a consistent pattern emerges: People in stable families are healthier and have lower mortality rates than those who divorce or never marry. These findings hold for men and women, for whites and nonwhites, for adults and children. What's the explanation behind the statistics? According to some studies, living in a family is a deterrent to unhealthy behavior. People bound by love and responsibility to other family members are less likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, and so on. But even when behavior is not a factor, families are still healthier—for emotional reasons. People are healthier when they're happy—and they're happier in committed relationships. One medical researcher has even published a book called The Broken Heart: The Medical Consequences of Loneliness on the health problems that follow family breakdown. Family stability is the great overlooked factor in keeping health-care costs down. Even when there is an illness, families pay less because they care for their own. Statistics show that people in intact families spend less time in expensive nursing homes and hospitals. What all this means is that today's increase in divorce and single parenthood is a major contributor to our rising health-care costs. Yet it's not as though singles are doomed to be sick. The church can be a redemptive force in this area. Christensen cites studies showing that singles enjoy increased health benefits if they are tied into a family substitute—a strong social support system, such as a church. The church ought to be providing love and care for those whose families have broken down. Ironically, during the past election and ever since, some politicians have insisted that values issues don't belong in the political arena. But don't believe it. The moral choices people make about their family life have profound political consequences. We always knew religion was good for the soul. Now research shows it's good for the body as well.


Chuck Colson


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