AltHealth: We Need Choices

acupunctureThere are two lessons that are burned into every American’s brain as we live and grow. Want a refresher course? All you have to do is watch one hour of television to hear them all over again:

  1. Symptoms don’t mean anything. They are just annoying pests that get in our way, and there’s no reason to let them stop us. Food gives you heartburn? No reason to stop eating it. Aches and pains? Coughing and runny nose? No reason to stop for that. Feel depressed or anxious? No point in wondering why. The sensible thing to do is take a pill, shove those symptoms under the rug, and get back to work.
  1. We are not responsible for our own well being – that’s what doctors are for. Medical professionals have the solutions to our problems. Only they can save us.

In the US, we are intensely concerned about health insurance, basing our hopes for a healthier future on the idea of a more affordable coverage. But we may be barking up the wrong tree – the flaw in our system is perhaps not as much in our insurance prices as it is in the attitude we have toward our own health.

We spend more money on health care in the United States than any other country in the world. If medicine alone could save us, America’s overall health would be the best in the world. But it isn’t. We rate a dismal 70 out of 132 other nations. Why? While there’s no clear answer to that, here’s something we should never forget: Health care in America today is run by business. We don’t have a single buyer system…we have competitive marketing. Political lobbying alone costs medical and insurance companies millions of dollars a year. They need to keep their patients coming back. This translates to a distinct lack of interest in educating people to take better care of themselves.

For years, the American Medical Association has waged a relentless battle against alternative and preventive medicine, and that war has been very successful. It was somehow not noticed in the implementation of Obamacare that a crucial factor in the system has been quietly sidestepped – our choices for health care are rigged. Our policies only cover pills and procedures that are sanctioned by the FDA. Basic plans don’t cover services for naturopathic physicians, acupuncture or herbal medicine, all of which are geared toward preventative practices and chronic illness management. Why? Because the AMA regards “alternative” medicine as sheer quackery. I remember attending a Senate hearing on the question of licensing naturopathic physicians in RI. One of the AMA doctors who was against it pulled no punches in expressing his views, interrupting supportive patient and professional testimonies, and pounding the table: “Those people have no right to call themselves doctors!” His attacks were so venomous that one of the Senators had to gently remonstrate: “I need to ask you to control your tone, sir.”

Even doctors who are more enlightened in their attitudes are forced to operate in a system dictated by bureaucratic  protocol and paved with billing codes. The constant infliction of new regulations, computer work and changes in policy have produced an epidemic of physician burn-out. Doctors who don’t follow procedure find themselves open to litigation or out of a job. Even their patients have them on a short leash. After hours of listening to pharmaceutical commercials on TV, patients walk into offices convinced that they already know what is wrong with them, demanding a pill. If that doctor won’t give them one, they find one who will.

And this is where those lessons come in — we have been taught to do that. We have been taught to believe that our health is not within own control, but rather in the hands of the medical system. The message is repeated over and over again, and few of us stop and question it. We don’t have the time. We have jobs. We have bills. When we become ill, we slap a Band-aid on our symptoms and go back to work. When a minor problem finally becomes major, we go to our doctors. It’s what we’ve been programmed to do. We are not stupid, but we are sleep deprived. And the media has been whispering sheer garbage to us as we doze.

Mao Tse Tung said, “It is impossible to control a people who are not afraid of anything.” What I see at the base of the healthcare system in the US today is exactly that: fear. We are all afraid of being without health insurance, we are afraid of the pain and suffering that is sure to await us if we are stranded without surgery, pills or technology. We need to get past this thinking, and to understand that we have more control over our own health than we have been led to believe. In order to affect real change in the health of our country, our insurance policies, whatever their cost, should provide the same coverage for health education, and integrative and alternative medicine, that they do for crisis intervention.

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