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Alison Rose Levy

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Resolving to Care: Integrative Health Care Reform

Posted: 12/31/08 04:16 PM ET

As a twisted Christmas present to Americans who care about health, the Wall Street Journal recently published an article knocking integrative physicians, Deepak Chopra, MD, and Andrew Weil, MD.

Why? Why would the Wall Street Journal bother to devote space to this jibe? (For the doctors' reply to this attack, see Chopra's HuffPost blog here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/leave-the-sinking-ship-an_b_154538.html

For the simple reason that if these two famous doctors (and the legions of integrative physicians and practitioners who follow them) have their way, the coming health care reform under the Obama administration will improve quality and lower costs by accessing a wide range of integrative health care modalities.

Why is that a problem? Because when integrative methods are adopted for wellness maintenance, for disease prevention, and/or for treatment of chronic diseases and anti-aging, it will signal one thing:

An end to the long gravy train ride for pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and conventional practices based more on the profit motive than on caring.

"Between 1998 and 2006, pharmaceutical companies and other manufacturers of health-care products spent over a billion dollars on lobbying, more than anybody else... Insurance companies, including health insurers, ranked second." This insight into the behind the scene forces in the health care debate comes from Obama's choice to lead health care reform, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, writing in his recent book, "Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crises.

Keep Daschle's assessment in mind that when you hear the media deriding integrative health. The same folks paying big bucks to lobby Congress are also big media buyers (of those commercials for pills that fix your every problem.) This shrinks the likelihood that media reportage on health (in the Wall Street Journal or elsewhere) will be objective, well-researched, open-minded, or in the public interest.

Meanwhile, the integrative health community is organizing to strategize how best to incorporate their offerings to improve American health care delivery and results. In just the last week, I attended a think tank and later interviewed key participants in the coming integrative health reform.

James S. Gordon, MD, Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine hosted twenty-five participants (ranging from top Congressional health policy advisors, to high ranking military health policy personnel, to integrative practitioners, to parents of special needs children) to dialogue and build consensus.

The group unanimously supported a single payer insurance model so long as prevention, self-care, and a wellness orientation are covered and integral.

Gordon, who served as Chairman of the White House Commission of Complementary and Alternative Health Care Policy, spent two years touring the country to solicit the needs and offerings in this field. Having worked extensively with a wide range of sizeable populations in dire need, including the traumatized survivors of Kosovo, Gordon strongly supports self-care but has found that incentives adopted to induce compliance are ineffective.

"Nothing you can use to coerce or bribe people to follow a program will make a difference. On the other hand, when you help people to see the connection between what they are doing and how they feel, the vast majority will do what's necessary. Self care begins with caring--and that's where any health system worth its name must begin."

The Samueli Institute, which explores the science of healing through research and other initiatives, hosted a meeting of 25 leading physicians, researchers, and scientists. (An additional 150 participated by phone.) This group assessed and offered input to a proposal to create a wellness office in the Executive branch to act as a driver for the inclusion of prevention and integrative health treatments.

Participants agreed that self-care (including nutrition, exercise, stress management, and a wide range of emotional and social supports) should be offered in health care, education, workplace, medical education, and other venues.

Wayne Jonas, MD, Samueli's CEO told the group that with its emphasis on training and education, innovation, and knowledge transfer, integrative health care aligns well with other key initiatives of the next administration.

Howard Federoff, MD, PhD, Executive Vice President of the Georgetown University Medical Center, called attention to a crucial need for a preventive approach to health care and disease management. "There's been an artificial distinction between wellness and disease, but in reality they exist in a continuum. The earlier we can intervene in every major class of human disease, the better off we will be."

"Those planning health care need to better understand the human organism in health and disease," counseled Gregory Fricchione, MD, Director of the Benson Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

"Let's not let caring become an afterthought. As a society, how can we continue to permit individuals to fall through the cracks and go without security and solace? This leads downstream to health problems of all kinds. We can't afford it."

Take action to include integrative health care in health reform at: www.citizens.org For regular reports on integrative health reform, go to: www.health-journalist.com

 
 
 

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