For the first time since 1993, Congress will try again to expand health care coverage in America.
This time, reformers have the backing of big American businesses, which pay employees’ health insurance … a burden not borne by most of their competitors abroad.
But as most observers note, expanding health coverage will be difficult and expensive unless we can cut administrative costs and reduce rates of preventable diseases.
The second of these two critical issues - cheap prevention versus costly treatment - was the focus of Congressional testimony delivered late last month by four leading physician-advocates of “integrative medicine”.
The testimony provided to Congress by Dr. Weil and three other leading physicians was preceded by their open letter to President Obama, regarding his health care agenda. See “Top Docs Urge Obama toward “Integrative” Medicine.”
Our health care system focuses almost exclusively on very expensive, late-stage treatment of lifestyle diseases.
As Obama letter co-signer Dr. Andrew Weil told a U.S. Senate committee last month, “…we do not have a ‘health care’ system at all. Instead we have a disease management system that is deeply dysfunctional and getting more so by the day.”
|What is integrative medicine?|
The National Institutes of Health says that integrative medicine “combines mainstream medical therapies with complementary and alternative therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.”
In other words, integrative medicine selects the very best, scientifically validated therapies from both conventional and alternative.
Contrary to popular belief, many conventional therapies, surgeries, and devices have never been subjected to clinical trials, and have no better claim to credibility than “alternative” treatments.
Likewise, many leading drugs lack evidence of efficacy, or they’ve not been proven to provide benefits substantially better than placebo pills… the very charge made against unproven “alternative” medical treatments.
For example, few people have even heard of the analysis of anti-depressant drug efficacy we reported last year… see “Prozac-Type Drugs Proven No Better than Placebo.”
On February 26, a key Senate health committee heard testimony from four leading practitioners of integrative medicine:
- Andrew Weil, M.D., Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
- Mehmet Oz, M.D., Director, Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY.
- Mark Hyman, M.D., Founder and Medical Director, The UltraWellness Center, Lenox, Massachusetts.
- Dean Ornish, M.D., Founder and President, Preventive Medicine Research Institute, Sausalito, California.
All four physicians offered their services to help re-craft federal policy along integrative medicine principles.
Committee co-chair Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa said he would involve the four physicians and their organizations in the coming months in specific health-care reform efforts, including drafting new legislation.
“I am just so grateful to you all. You are my heroes,” he said. “I keep thinking to myself, 'My god, why don't people get this?' We need you badly, and want you to be involved.”
Whether you lean right or left, just write!
Only if voters exert pressure on Congress can common sense, evidence, and fairness hope to prevail over
powerful drug companies and insurers, which hold lucrative stakes in the status quo.
All of us need to write our U.S. Representatives and Senators. But what should we say?
You could echo the written remarks submitted by Senator Edward Kennedy:
“…we must incorporate prevention, wellness, and more patient-centered approaches as fundamental components of medical education and the training of health providers. In order to reach the patient effectively, integrative practices must be accepted throughout our health care system, and especially in the education of health care providers and the consumers who will benefit…:”
Senator Kennedy noted that we should also act locally, to build sidewalks and bike lanes, push for workplace wellness programs, and provide preventive screenings and healthy lifestyle lessons at schools.
And during the hearing attended by Drs. Weil, Oz, Hyman, and Ornish, Senator Harkin noted that after a federal pilot program made free fruits and vegetables available in 100 grade schools in 2003, “I saw third grade kids eating fresh spinach, carrots and broccoli. Teachers told me some of these kids have never had a fresh orange in their lives.”
You may also find it useful to scan a suggested letter of support for the President’s plan.
Even if you disagree with parts of his plan, the letter lists major issues you may wish to address when drafting your own correspondence to Congress.
To find your Senators and Representatives, go to www.senate.gov (see search box in the upper right corner), and www.house.gov (see search box in the upper left corner). You can email them directly. Better yet, send them physical letters at the addresses provided.
Integrative docs left out of White House health summit
In December 2008, President-elect Obama invited Americans to host and participate in HealthCare Community Discussions to talk about how to reform health care in America.
Over 9,000 Americans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia signed up to host Health Care Community Discussions, and thousands more participated.
After each Health Care Community Discussion, hosts were asked to fill out a Participant Survey and submit a Group Report summarizing the group’s main concerns and suggestions.
The 3,276 group reports were systematically analyzed for the report, Americans Speak on Health Reform.
The Report was the foundation for the March 5 White House Forum on Health Reform, a further public discussion of the need for health reform.
While drug companies and insurers were well-represented at last week’s White House Forum on Health Reform, none of the four testifying physicians were invited (click here to see the list of invitees).
Let your representatives know that you value the perspective provided by these four experts in integrative medicine, among others, and that you want them to help draft any reform legislation.