A Win Win Solution For Health Care Woes

It is widely acknowledged that U.S. health care costs are bankrupting governments, businesses and families. Health care costs are gobbling up over one sixth of our economy and rising.There is a simple solution to this problem that involves giving people more of what they want, a solution that will make most people happy and create rewarding, good paying jobs while lowering health care costs. The solution is to allow people to choose so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM ) instead of conventional medical treatments and require their health insurance to cover the costs.

CAM includes interventions such as acupuncture, vitamins, herbs, biofeedback, nutrition, exercise programs and homeopathy. CAM treatments get at the cause of the problems, not just the symptoms. They are non-invasive, safe and much less costly than pharmaceuticals and surgeries. CAM treatments also involve more time spent with health care practitioners, so the patient feels more cared for than in conventional medicine. Because these interventions are labor intensive and low tech, they create more demand for health care practitioners, who can be employed at a lower overall cost than with conventional health care practices.

While CAM interventions are often criticized as “unproven”, many of them have extensive research behind them. Most people falsely believe that conventional medical treatments are well researched and proven effective. Experts have estimated that only 15% of conventional treatments have met even minimal standards of proof of effectiveness. Surgical procedures, for instance, are not required to be clinically tested and proven effective before being widely disseminated. Many costly and dangerous procedures, such as coronary bypass surgery, have never been subjected to randomized, controlled trials, the gold standard of proof. Most new drugs require only four to eight weeks of testing on a few thousand individuals before being widely disseminated to be used by millions of people for long term use. The risks of these drugs, which include fatalities, are only discovered after thousands of people have been harmed. Many drugs are prohibitively expensive. For instance, newer cancer drugs such as Avastin, that have been approved after demonstrating they extend life by only a few weeks or months, cost as much as $100,000 for a course of treatment. They still must be combined with other drugs and treatments. It is not unusual for cancer treatment for one patient to cost $350,000. Most cancer drugs and therapies are highly toxic and often have debilitating and even fatal side effects. Over 550,000 Americans die every year from cancer despite these treatments. On the other hand, nutritional treatments for cancer cost only a few thousand dollars and have no toxic side effects, yet they are not covered by insurance and in some places are illegal. Physicians can lose their medical licenses for administering them because they are not “standard of practice” treatments. Cancer patients are denied this choice.

Experts estimate that 2.2 million people are hospitalized annually in the U.S. because of drug side effects, and 106,000 a year die. We can save on the costs of these hospitalizations and save many lives by using safer alternatives.

Millions of people are using CAM treatments now and paying out of pocket. The most educated and affluent patients tend to be the ones using these treatments. Millions more would flock to CAM treatments if they were covered medical expenses because they have grown wary of risky drugs and invasive medical procedures that have limited effectiveness. To save health care dollars, we don’t have to tell anyone they can’t have the more expensive option, we just have to give them more options. Many would choose a less expensive option.

Many health care providers would like to offer CAM therapies but are holding back because of fear of losing their medical licenses or concerns about lack of patients due to lack of insurance reimbursement. By making this proposed change in our health care system, we can have healthier, happier patients and save billions of dollars. We can make it easier for governments to balance their budgets and businesses to survive. The only people who would be unhappy with this change would be those who make exorbitant profits from the current system.

Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

~ Cindy Perlin, LCSW

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