Health care and Life

The health care debate is heating up, sometimes in alarming and dangerous ways. Some utterly reject that government can do anything right. Others point to an insurance industry that dumps people the moment they’re ill. And who gets left in the lurch? As ever, the consumer.

As a member-driven cooperative, NYBC lends voice to that third, often obscured voice, the consumer. Most of us working with NYBC are living with a chronic disease, some of us without any health insurance coverage, so this is not merely an academic issue.

Others have pointed to an overlooked aspect of the healthcare debate. Dr. Dean Ornish, a longtime advocate for changes in lifestyle to improve health, presents a compelling case in a recent blog in the Huffington Post. He notes that: We used high-tech, state-of-the-art measures to prove the power of simple, low-tech, and low-cost interventions. We showed that comprehensive lifestyle changes may stop or even reverse the progression of coronary heart disease, prostate cancer, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, hypercholesterolemia, and other chronic conditions that account for at least 75% of the $2.1 trillion in health care costs.

Yes, that’s PER YEAR. That’s nearly 17% of our Gross Domestic Product. According to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, in 2006, health care spending reached a total of $2.1 trillion, or $7,026 per person, up from $6,649 per person in 2005.

Ornish’s efforts then revolved around figuring out how to get Medicaid to cover these types of approaches. And, after 14 years, they had success. This makes sense and indeed can help to measurably, and in a healthy and sustained way, help to reduce healthcare costs. While he notes that it took such a long time for the government programs to buy into this idea, it should be noted that there weren’t many private insurance companies buying into either.

While an excellent program overall, this approach does not address the many chronic, debilitating conditions that many of us face from Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, to chronic infection with HIV, Hepatitis B or C, Lyme disease, let alone those suffering injury. Medical care must be comprehensive and cover everyone.

But at NYBC, clearly, we recognize the value of access to supplements as part of a comprehensive, holistic program to sustain health. So it is good to see Dr. Ornish’s perspective aired as perhaps a means to forge a more effective approach to health care, prevention and disease care. At NYBC, we feel that coverage should include not only drugs, but also dietary supplements and other legitimate holistic practitioners and practices (e.g., acupuncturists).

Indeed, the hostility manifested in policy over the decades by both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has resulted in some heady battles. Here, there are opportunities to expand on the current efforts of NIH to further clinical studies of CAM and dietary supplements. In addition, FDA needs to develop methods to more rapidly assess and approve claims of dietary supplements to impact health without necessarily requiring them to become “drugs.”

It’s pretty clear to us that neither the government NOR the private sector and industry can be blindly trusted. Any large organization will have flaws. The current system, though, is unbelievably cruel and must change. If there is a robust public option, it should include prevention and care that covers dietary supplements. Whatever the result, consumer groups must always be on the alert.
Next blog…Rights & Responsibilities