Clint Borgen, founder and president of the Borgen
Project once said "When overseas you learn more about your own
country, than you do the place you're visiting." I could not agree
with this sentiment more. I travel a great deal. It is my personal
mission to travel outside of the United States at least once or
twice a year. And when I do, I always learn something about this
country that can only be seen from the vantage of another country
where people live and act differently than they do here.
Difference in health and health care are especially prevalent,
and when I travel, the health communicator in me often finds it
difficult to turn off that part of my brain that is always asking
"why" regarding health issues. This questions inevitably leads to a
blog post, so here we are!
I recently took a fabulous vacation to Costa Rica. I wasn't sure
if I'd be able to pull out a blog post from this trip because, to
be honest, Costa Rica and its people sort do things really, really
well. And then I realized, maybe there's the blog post.
Costa Rica has a government-run universal health care system
called Caja Costarricense de
Seguro Social (this post will not discuss the merits or
detriments of a single-payer system-that's a different post for a
different day). The country also has a private health care system.
Health care costs are 10 times lower in Costa Rica than in the
United States. And what do these lower health care costs get you?
Well, apparently, a few more years of living in a tropical
Costa Rica ranks near the top of world for life expectancy, and
a recent study in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences found that
people in Costa Rica live longer than people in the United
States, with a life expectancy of 78.5 years in Costa Rica
verses 77.4 in the United States.
In particular, the study found while the wealthiest U.S.
residents live 3.4 times longer than the poorest, the wealthiest
Costa Ricans live only 1.5 times longer than the poorest Costa
Ricans, despite a greater income gap in Costa Rica. Smoking,
obesity, and lack of health access were cited for why poor
Americans don't live as long as their relatively poor counterparts
in Costa Rica. Of note, "
U.S. men are four times more likely to die of lung cancer and have
a 54 percent higher risk of dying of heart disease than Costa Rican
Why the difference? According to the study, "stress, strong
family and social networks, and happiness are all factors that are
not well understood but likely play an important role in how long
Costa Rica has a national phrase: pura vida, which literally
means pure life but is often used as a greeting or farewell or to
simply assert that things are going well. Is it this pura vida way
of living that reduces stress and increases happiness? I was only
there for eight days, but I can tell you the Costa Rican way of
thinking and living had a big impact on me in that short time.
Pura vida? Yes, I think so.