How can we, as a country, reduce exploding healthcare costs? By changing the way we do medicine. Too often we rely on treating symptoms and addressing health problems after they have reached the crisis state. Under the old way of thinking, this usually means hospital stays, vastly expensive surgery, expensive drugs with undesirable side effects, and other procedures common to conventional chronic care.
Preventive medicine should be, by definition, the prevention of disease before it takes hold. Diagnostic tests may be useful for early detection, but they often involve little understood risks such as radiation. Moreover, the screen may be used to redefine normal conditions as pre-diseases requiring expensive and often dangerous lifelong drug treatment. And whether the screen is used to diagnose a pre-disease condition or a disease, the opportunity for true prevention has already passed.
Although both the Senate HELP and Finance Committee healthcare bills incorporate prevention, they do not define what it means in key provisions. Without a clear definition of which preventive measures will be covered by insurance, for example, we could end up with nothing more than a long list of approved screening measures and drugs to be used on all ages, including the very young.
We are concerned that the current healthcare discussion doesn’t go far enough and would actually further constrain your access to a truly integrative and preventive medical model.
Equally alarming are the following provisions in the Senate healthcare bills:
- A one-size-fits-all health insurance mandate would impede your right to choose and receive the healthcare that works best for you. It’s not exactly clear which services would be provided by a mandate, but it is apparent that we would have only one option! Those who currently pay out of pocket for healthcare services and opt to work outside of the insurance system or choose to purchase minimal coverage for catastrophic events will have the burden of additional insurance expenses without receiving additional benefits. We may ultimately be unable to afford our healthcare options of choice. Even if we can afford them, the natural healthcare option may be simply regulated away in a one-size-fits-all medical world.
- Flexible Spending and Health Savings Accounts will be capped at $2,500. They may also be subject to taxes applied to high-end plans. These types of accounts are frequently used to pay for integrative medicine options, including preventive services. The net impact could be less access to healthy options! There is no conceivable justification for doing this.
- The Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER) program is structured to reinforce and strengthen the current medical paradigm, which is stacked against integrative medicine. A newly created commission will be charged with identifying and recommending the most effective and appropriate healthcare services and procedures. That commission is required (required!) to include representatives of the pharmaceutical industry, but no one is included from the integrative health community. It’s crucial that less invasive, less expensive and more natural integrative medical treatments be examined and compared in head-to-head studies.
- Electronic Medical Records (EMR) are an invasion of privacy and, in the worst case, may be used to target practitioners who are using alternative therapies. The government and potentially many others will have access to all of your EMRs. Do you trust them to keep your records secure? It is also likely that state medical boards, attorneys general and the FDA will access and use these data to target practitioners who offer integrative approaches. Any EMR system should have an option for individuals to opt out!
The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to vote on Tuesday, October 13, to pass the bill out of committee. The Senate will then merge the HELP and Finance bills together. Without further amendments, the resulting bill will commit us to one-size-fits-all options, stifling creative innovation, and giving special interests free rein to reinforce the status quo — pushing integrative medicine and true prevention further outside of the medical system.
We need your help! Let’s put “health” back in the healthcare bill! Please write your senators to let them know that you want to see true healthcare reform. If you are a practitioner, please identify your area of practice and highlight the need to ensure equal footing for natural and integrative medicine.