According to Peter Chowka of NaturalHealthLine, the first two months of President Obama’s administration “have set the stage for the greatest transformation of American healthcare since the country declared its independence from Great Britain 233 years ago.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has been quoted as saying Congress hopes to enact a mandate that would allow every American to receive health insurance as part of a sweeping overhaul of US healthcare by the end of the year. While even Congressman Hoyer agrees the details are sketchy at this time, the mandate will be for individuals to purchase insurance themselves, for employers to provide coverage, or a combination of both. An op-ed piece in a recent Wall Street Journal said that Massachusetts is “trying to manage the huge costs of the subsidized middle-class insurance program that is gradually swallowing the state budget,” and that the state gives us a preview of what Democratic leaders “are cooking up for everyone else.”
There is no doubt that it costs too much to be sick in this country. While our nation’s diagnostics and acute care are enviable, our success rate with chronic disease is not—and that is where 87% of our nation’s healthcare dollars are spent annually. Most would agree that coverage for major medical (in-patient emergency care) is desirable. Assuming subsidies are available for those whose income is not sufficient to pay the entire premium, the nation can then begin to focus on cost-effective emergency care.
Our system breaks down when it comes to chronic, degenerative care. While medications and procedures have their place, they do not cure diabetes, high blood pressure, or even heart disease. Harian Lahti, a pharmacist in Vancouver, BC, says that while drugs have a role in healing, he believes they are overprescribed and, in some people, do more harm than good. “Back then, it seems that drugs were the answer. But it’s become a monster. How do we escape the monster we have created?” Drug policy analyst Alan Cassels, co-author of the book Selling Sickness, says part of the problem is that we are now marketing illnesses, offering pharmaceutical solutions to problems the public didn’t even realize they had. “And for a lot of things,” he says, “there are very simple and cheap herbal treatments.”
Any healthcare reform plan is destined to go down in flames if rationed care or cost containment are the priorities. True healthcare reform necessitates a major shift in behavior and mindset: staying healthy by eating wisely, supplementing judiciously, staying active, and avoiding stress; paying for routine doctors’ visits with cash, and taking advantage of the discount many physicians offer when they don’t have to deal with insurance; and using integrative and alternative healthcare to effectively treat chronic conditions.
Insurance pays thousands of dollars for a surgeon to operate on a patient with compromised circulation. Yet if a doctor educates a patient about lifestyle changes can reverse those blockages, the insurance pays little or nothing. Which approach will most doctors take? There is no incentive in medicine for cost-effective care or for keeping the patient well. Many doctors prescribe costly procedures when a less invasive intervention might work just as well out of a fear that he or she will be second-guessed by a colleague—or an attorney.