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Day of Reckoning in Health Care

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The unspoken corollary of the old adage, "If it's not broke, don't fix it.." is:

"If it is broke, we better fix it.."

Broken and broke. That's how a growing number of people -- including President Obama -- see the current health care system and what it does to ordinary citizens. When illness strikes unannounced, it wreaks both health and economic havoc.

"Each year, 1.5 million Americans lose their homes due to health care costs," President Obama said in last night's address, asserting that in the current economic crisis, we can't afford a health model and infracture that deliver ever-escalating costs, that profit the few, and devastate the many.

As health care costs rises, the President chided Congress that "we delay reform, we delay reform... prizing short term gains prized over long term prosperity, but now the day of reckoning has arrived."

On Monday, in a hearing held before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Senator Barbara Mikulsi of Maryland, bluntly told the gathering, "Talking about health care and changes in it is not purely about giving more people access to the existing health care system."

At her invitation, a number of distinguished integrative physicians and health experts spoke.

Calling for the establishment of a White House Office of Health and Wellness, to define "a vision in which service to all Americans is paramount," Dr. James Gordon, MD, director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, proposed that we "remove the baleful influence of the insurance and pharmaceutical companies on healthcare quality and its cost, and make industry serve, rather than exploit, Americans with health needs."

"Health and illness are a continuum. It's unreasonable to wait until disease reaches an advanced diagnostic threshold, and then provide late-stage interventions," said Wayne Jonas, MD, President of the Samueli Institute. "We must pursue prevention, health promotion, chronic disease management and healing, a new vision of health and disease based on self-care and lifestyle management."

"Nutrition, exercise, stress management, and mind-body approaches (are) the true primary care (to be) used wherever possible prior to more side-effect burdened approaches like surgery and drugs," Gordon agreed.

At last week's Integrative Health Symposium held in New York City, Dr. Jeffrey Bland, PhD, told me that, "We have to undergo a melt (of our health system) in order to produce a new alloy with a different composition and structure (emphasizing) proactive health care rather than reactive health care. We have to change our way of thinking about health and ask the big audacious questions."

In an opinion piece published in yesterday's Arizona Republic, Dr. Andrew Weil and Professor Rustum Roy proposed that, "A sustainable health-care system demands the structure of a stable pyramid, with a broad base of educated, active citizens.... Above that base a smaller set of health coaches, then primary care physicians - (all) trained integratively. Then, at the tip, specialists. The current unstable medical situation has the pyramid balancing on its tip with no role for citizen education and responsibility. "

Woodson C. Merrell, MD, Director of Integrative Medicine, at New York's Continuum Center for Health & Healing urges government to act. "Just as we needed this economic stimulus bill, we need to make rapid changes in health care now."

Merrell warned, "The health care system is starting to crumble. As more people lose health insurance, emergency rooms will be completely overburdened. The system is going to devolve very quickly. Fortunately, the Health Care Summit comes at a perfect time."

The Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public, a three day assembly of governmental leaders, doctors, scientists, and policy experts begins today in Washington, D.C. Convened by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (with support by the Bravewell Collaborative) this ground-breaking gathering aims to advance the science, understanding, and progress of integrative medicine and explore how this approach can help to solving the nation's health care crisis. More info at: http://www.iom.edu/?ID=52555)

According to Bravewell President Christy Mack, "This is the beginning of the marriage of conventional medicine and integrative medicine."

After last night's speech, the advocates of a sea change in health care have a new champion. Promising to devote unprecedented resources to prevention in health care, President Obama assured Americans that "Health care reform cannot wait, must not wait, and will not wait another year."

I'll be reporting on this week's events and providing ongoing coverage of health care via the free Health Outlook at www.health-journalist.com