From the August 2011 issue of Benefits Selling Magazine •Subscribe!

Blame it on the five-percenters

It’s really easy to toss numbers around. I know that. And, apparently, so do the nerds over at McKinsey and Co. In fact, one of my home state heroes, Mark Twain, even once admitted, “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.” (And on a more personal note: Never trust a journalist with numbers. We’re notoriously bad at math.There’s a reason we flocked to journalism school. Besides, we’re usually too lazy to check our work, anyway.)

OK, all of that being said, you ready for the latest jaw-dropping stat? Roughly 5 percent of the population is responsible for nearly half of all health care spending in this country.

Five percent blowing through 50 percent? Leaving the other 95 percent of us to make up the other 50 percent of spending? But, of course, it’s not that simple. The way the numbers break down, half the population only makes up 3.1 percent of all expenditures. Of course, this also means we have 5 percent of the population responsible for inflating premium rates for all of us. (By the way, all of this stems from a new report out of the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation.)

And don’t think the numbers don’t get worse. They do. Because, naturally, health care spending jumped dramatically over the last few years (even by health care spending standards). We’re talking 23 percent between 2003 and 2009. So what’s wrong with these people? Well, that’s hard to pin down precisely, but roughly half of that expensive 5 percent have high blood pressure, at least a third have high cholesterol and about a fourth have diabetes, according to the report.

So what does all this mean? Let me say this clearly since no one else will: We’re fat, lazy and we don’t care. But don’t shoot the messenger. The latest annual obesity report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reveals we’re fatter than ever. And I need to quote them directly, because this damning nugget just says it all: “In 1995, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent.

Now, all but one does.” And it’s not that we’re necessarily eating more (making this strictly a first-world problem), but we’re certainly eating worse. We’re exercising less. And when that makes us sick, we want someone else to pay for it. It’s this kind of lazy, adolescent logic that’s led us down this candy-coated path and into this deep-fried briar patch. And I don’t know about you, but it’s starting to piss me off.

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