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“So, Just snap your fingers and fix the USA” is the last line from the JibJab Media video shown at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner Friday night. President Obama is depicted as Superman with his campaign logo on his suit instead of the big “S.”

This characterization is no surprise as even a creature from outer space visiting the U.S. could see there is a cult of Obama. But can he use his cult-like status to fix some of the big problems? That remains an open question. I believe he can if he is willing to expend some personal and political capital. One area that could use some attention is in the area of health care – not exactly breaking news.

It’s not going to be cheap. Right now it looks as if it will cost about $1 trillion over 10 years to allow people to purchase health care (similar to the Massachusetts plan). If current figures are correct, then at least 95 percent of all Americans will be insured. This plan will also keep the health care industry intact as opposed to the single-payer option, which is the boogey man of the Right.

To make this happen there has to be net savings over the long term. This means America must get healthier. We cannot sustain a health care system that is drained by preventable disease – often caused by our eating and exercise habits. I am old enough to remember how gym class changed in elementary school from “snatch the bacon” to real tough individual challenge. This change took place during the time of another president who relied heavily on the cult of personality, John F. Kennedy.

President Kennedy used his personality wisely by declaring, “The physical vigor of our citizens is one of America’s most precious resources.” Building on the Eisenhower administration’s Council on Youth Fitness, President Kennedy challenged local and state authorities to develop ways of keeping youth fit. The Council sent recordings of “Chicken Fat,” a six-minute audio work out record, to schools all over the country.

President Kennedy continued to use the sheer force of will and personal magnetism to get America moving by his call to the military and then to ordinary citizens to do a 50-mile hike in three days bringing back one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite challenges. Although it does not seem that President Kennedy completed his own challenge, his brother Robert did. In fact, RFK completed it in February 1963 in cold weather in less than 18 hours. It fueled a fitness craze throughout the country.

Fitness and money are linked. One easy way to keep health care costs down is to keep America fit. The Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, issued a report titled, “Prevention Makes Common Cents.” The report details the savings that can be made by preventative maintenance. The findings are clear: “One hundred and twenty-nine million U.S. adults are overweight or obese which cost the nation anywhere from $69 billion to $117 billion per year.” Another factoid, the 17 million people with diabetes costs $132 billion per year, much of this disease preventable. Even if only half of the overweight people and half of the obese people could get healthy from diet and exercise, it would bring a savings of at least $100 billion a year. That would be enough to pay the $1 trillion over 10 years so that 95 percent of Americans could be insured.

This savings would be enough even before generic drugs; purchasing in bulk for drugs and equipment, and not having to practice defensive medicine by over ordering lab tests, or any of the other cost savings being proposed. Some states understand that simple fitness is going to save money in the state’s bottom line. For instance, Mississippi’s first lady, Marsha Barbour, is the
spokeswoman for the “Let’s get Walkin’ Mississippi” campaign, co-sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield. It doesn’t even involve 50-mile hikes. And despite the fact that there are hotdog stands on every corner, residents of New York are considered healthier because they walk rather than drive.

All of this adds up to one thing: President Obama needs to get Americans moving and use his personality to do so. He can pay for his new health insurance program by these simple savings. One sure way to quiet the opposition is to take those noisy Republicans on a hike. Challenge them to the RFK 50-mile hike, and see how many of them are left standing.

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