by Randy Hartnell and Craig Weatherby
Andrew Weil, M.D. is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and the founder and director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.
But he’s better known as the author of five consecutive #1 New York Times bestsellers, including Healthy Aging and 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, and as a frequent guest on CNN’s “Larry King Live”.
Now, Dr. Weil has published a timely new book that shows how healthcare in America became overpriced, ineffective and ultimately disastrous… and what we can all do to fix those problems: Why Our Health Matters: A Vision of Medicine That Can Transform Our Future.
Dr. Weil is one of our health care heroes. In addition to his books and doctor-training program, he’s joined other health luminaries to urge health care reform on Congress.
Together with Dean Ornish, M.D., Deepak Chopra, M.D., and Rustum Roy, Ph.D., Dr. Weil penned a joint Op-Ed essay in The Wall Street Journal (see “Top Docs Urge Obama toward “Integrative” Medicine”).
Then, he and Dr. Ornish joined Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Mark Hyman to testify before a key Congressional committee writing reform legislation (see “Top Holistic Docs Testify on Health Reform”).
You’ll get a good sense of his views by watching his September 10 appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” in which Dr. Weil spoke about President Obama’s recent Congressional address on health care and how people can ensure healthier lives.
Dr. Weil’s case for reform
Almost everyone who has been treated by – or works within – the American healthcare system at least suspects that it is deeply dysfunctional and on the verge of collapse.
Dr. Weil identifies the root of the problem, showing how American medicine has lost its way.
He then presents a solution that proposes to make healthcare affordable and dramatically improve Americans’ rapidly deteriorating health.
As he points out, our health is far from the best in the world, even though we spend more on it than any other nation.
The World Health Organization recently rated America 37th in health outcomes, on a par with Serbia. Meanwhile, our costs are more than twice as high per capita as those in other developed nations, leading medical care to become a leading cause of personal bankruptcy.
And it only promises to get worse. As Dr. Weil writes, “If predictions hold, a family of four, in the next seven to nine years, will spend around $64,000 annually on health care.”
As politicians of both parties admit, our healthcare system is on the verge of collapse and it has the potential to take our whole economy down. But they can’t agree on a cure.
Dr. Weil believes that America must transform its basic approach to health, putting the emphasis on prevention and on proven lower-tech, lower-cost ways to deter the chronic diseases that cost us the most in terms of money and human suffering.
By embracing a commonsense medical philosophy known as integrative medicine, says Dr. Weil, “I am certain we will improve health outcomes and bring costs down… I invite you to join me in making it happen.”
Using facts to inspire action
In Why Our Health Matters, Dr. Weil argues that we must change the education and training of all health professionals and shift our health care efforts from disease intervention to disease prevention and health promotion.
He documents the ugly reality of American healthcare, revealing why reform of the system’s perverse incentives and policies must be an urgent priority:
- An estimated 81 percent of Americans now take at least one prescription medication every day.
- We are the only developed country without a national system of health care.
- Exorbitant medical costs have become a leading cause of personal bankruptcy.
- The health care industry generates enormous profits: The profit margin of three of our largest insurance companies in 2006 ranged from 26 percent to 29 percent.
- America has a glut of specialists and a serious deficiency of generalists due to skewed pay scales: Internists may make as much as $204,000, but a radiologist can earn as much as $911,000.
- Although new technology usually brings costs down, half of recent increases in the cost of health care are attributable to new technologies, including new drugs.
- Without lifestyle strategies that promote health, chronic, degenerative disease will dramatically increase as baby boomers reach old age.
- Few of the many pharmaceutical drugs on the market are actually safe and effective.
- Safe and effective alternatives to drugs do exist: we should look to them first for managing the most common health problems.
Health Care Call to Action - by Andrew Weil, M.D.
As an American, you have a right to good health care that is effective, accessible, and affordable, that serves you from infancy through old age, that allows you to go to practitioners and facilities of your choosing, and that offers a broad range of therapeutic options.
We currently have an expensive system that is not making people well. While there has been tremendous debate over access and payment, there has been less focus on the content of health care. Without a change in that content, we will never have a sustainable system; all attempts at reform will be taken down by unmanageable costs.
As I outlined in my book, Why Our Health Matters: A Vision of Medicine That Can Transform Our Future, here are some changes we can demand immediately:
1. Ban direct-to-consumer marketing and advertising by big pharma.
Sales of $643 billion a year have made the pharmaceutical industry the most profitable business in the country. Most pharmaceutical companies spend a huge portion of their budget on advertising. The result is a nation of people who believe there's a pill for every health problem. Big pharma advertising is producing a distorted and narrow view of how health care works, which is why there are several bills moving through Congress that aim to clamp down on it.
2. Create a National Institute of Health and Healing at the NIH and fund it generously.
If our health care system is to achieve greatness, our medicine needs to return to its roots. It must focus again on the natural healing power of human beings. This means investing more in research that will help us understand the body's ability to defend itself from harm, regenerate damaged tissue and adapt to injury and loss. Doing so will help us create and improve treatment and therapies that are less invasive and less expensive while making the most of our most powerful healing asset: ourselves.
3. Create an Office of Health Promotion within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and fund it appropriately.
We spend 40 times more on the health risks of terrorism than we do on the health risks of obesity, which kills about 400,000 people a year. There is too much emphasis on treating disease rather than on protecting health in the first place. We need to invest real dollars and ingenuity in educating people about nutrition, exercise and other healthy activities. It's the single most effective way to defeat the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and conditions that lead to life-threatening diseases.
4. Teach health promotion and integrative medicine at medical schools and residency programs.
We need to create a new generation of hands-on primary care physicians who are as knowledgeable about promoting health practices that their patients can adopt to prevent serious, chronic diseases as they are about disease management and crisis intervention.
5. Require insurers to cover health promotion and integrative care.
Millions of Americans today are taking dietary supplements, practicing yoga and integrating other natural therapies into their lives. These are all preventive measures that will keep them out of the doctor's office and drive down the costs of treating serious problems like heart disease and diabetes. Yet none of these healthy activities is covered by insurance companies.
6. Establish an Office of Health Education within the U.S. Department of Education.
We need to start healthy habits young. This office would make nutrition, diet, and exercise an integrated part of every child's education and encourage innovative ways to teach healthy practices to young people so the message sticks.
7. Learn how to take care of yourself!
You can't afford to get sick, and you can't depend on the present health care system to keep you well. It's up to you to protect and maintain your body's innate capacity for health and healing by making the right choices in how you live.
Yours in health,
Andrew Weil, M.D.