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Archive for Health Care Reform

In the Precautionary Principle for the Environment and Health, Alison Rose Levy interviews Carolyn Raffensperger, M.A., J.D., the executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network ( As an environmental lawyer she specializes Read More→

Health Care By Sound Byte

Monday, September 14th, 2009
I’ve always wondered about the decline of Rome. Why would the Roman people get distracted by a mean-spirited and meaningless circus? At what stage of a civilization do cheap thrills become the best option?

Unfortunately, nowadays, I don’t have to crack a history book to get that lesson.

If media outlets, pundits, and commentators were seriously concerned about the health of Americans, why after the President’s speech, would media coverage land upon a single word shouted by an idiot–rather than the substantive realities of American health care reform?

Of course, I know. The circus is far more entertaining than what you, I, and our loved ones will suffer due to the health care quagmire. It’s easier to fixate on a sound byte than to address a complex reality. Too bad for us and our health.

Fortunately, Andrew Weil offered a voice of sanity on Larry King show. King joked about the title of Weil’s just published book, Why Our Health Matters asking: Isn’t it obvious why our health matters?

Is it? Do we act as if health is primary?

Given all the ways Weil revealed in which American health care is off the rails, I really have to wonder:

Can we take it for granted that health really matters to Americans– when we:

• Allow a thousands year old healing art to be co-opted and turned into an industry accountable for bottom line profits, not health?

• Permit that industry to make profits higher than any other commodity in our society, while people go bankrupt and their health suffers–even after we watched other unregulated industries topple our economy?

• Stand by as that industry donates millions of dollars to legislators to buy legislation that governs health care–and then fear executive branch leadership that tries to restore programs for the public good?

• Okay direct to consumer drug advertising so that most TV show push drugs?

• Hope that media reporting is honest when it’s paid for by drug advertising?

• Believe that scientific studies published in medical journals are scientific even when those journals are paid for by industry advertising–as is much of the research itself?

• Look on in confusion as health care politics degenerates into a talking point mud wrestle?

• Irrationally believe that doctors like Weil who recommend prevention and health promotion stand opposed to insurance coverage–even though he and other integrative doctors have repeatedly supported universal coverage?

• Are so health disempowered that any suggestion to take better care of our health in the basic ways available to us– evokes a terrible two’s response in so many?

Americas pay lip service to health. But we all too easily get diverted by a media circus–and any old fear-mongering PR campaign can throw us off course. We’ll vote against our own self-interest based on a meaningless slogan or the color of someone’s tie. We’ll jump on board to comment on the latest media frisson, but ignore the fundamental realities of health care and health economics. We believe in a myth (American health care is number one) and ignore the reality–we rank with the Serbians. We overlook basic ways to preserve health and then scream for drugs. We trust high tech services and distrust healthy foods and the gifts of nature. Are we getting the health care we deserve?

On Larry King and in his terrific book, Why Our Health Matters, Weil’s is the most responsible voice in this debate. He is asking that people be responsible, that legislators be responsible, and that health industries be responsible to the people they serve– not to executive profit. Yet some view his frank look at how to lower costs as a frilly add-on– rather than a far-sighted, strategic, and systemic way to save our collective butts.

A true solution won’t give you an adrenaline rush like the latest media fracas, but we need to do what Weil recommends as the three ways to assure better health care at lower cost:

1. Build some form of government sponsored plan to create leverage to lower insurance rates and negotiate favorable pricing on standard medical care

2. Lower health costs through the lifestyle/preventive measures

3. Assure that both government and private programs enact health promoting policies across the board

If your health matters to you, I highly recommend that you read Weil’s new book.

We’ll get the health care that has been imposed upon us, until we rise up, take responsibility and demand the health care we deserve.

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Copyright, 2009, Alison Rose Levy. All rights reserved.

You can, as long as you include this citation: by Alison Rose Levy: (sign up for the HealthOutlook ezine) Copyright © 2007 -2010 Alison Rose Levy. All rights reserved.
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Dr. Andrew Weil’s new book, “Why Our Health Matters” clearly reveals why health care reform is in gridlock or what to do about it. In this book, Weil offers solid, original, clear-minded, and impeccably caring solutions for our health care conundrum.

“I am sure you or people you know have had disastrous interactions with our so-called health care system, resulting in physical, emotional, or financial harm,” Weil writes. “Most of us feel as if we are up against implacable forces and institutions that are beyond our influence.”

Apparently, even the President feels that way. In his campaign, he promised to get the money lenders out of the temple of health care, but so far–no good. He is being outplayed. The ongoing debacle over insurance reform unveils the unmediated power of health care infrastructures bent on self-perpetuation rather than public health. Corporate bottom lines dictate health care policy thanks to campaign finance laws that permit those with the deepest pockets to buy legislators.

“The capitalistic free market system often works well and fairly for both buyers and sellers,” Weil points out. “However when the products that an industry sells are meant to save lives and relieve suffering, free market forces are easily skewed… If you need a product or a service to help control cancer, the seller can demand an unfair price (operating) in a free market run amok.”

As a result, both profits and power have concentrated in the health care sector as the rest of the economy tanks.

Yet even with many other options in health care, options brilliantly detailed in “Why Our Health Matters”, many people still cling to high cost medicine even when it performs poorly for their specific health care needs.


Here’s Weil’s diagnosis:

“The wealth concentrated around big pharma and the other corporate pillars of the medical industry has narrowed our country’s concept of what constitutes good medical treatment,” Weil writes.

In that one sentence Weil has pierced to the root of our health care dilemma.

It’s not just that the various arms of industrial medicine can skew policies originally meant to protect the public–and which many mistakenly believe still do. It’s also that over the decades, through media reporting, advertising, and extensive PR re-enforcing their particular brand of health care, industrial medicine has unduly influenced public understanding of health science and care– causing people to believe as gospel what they’ve been taught to believe.

In the recent health care reform debate, it’s become obvious how corporate marketing dollars misdirect public attention into meaningless debates over contrived issues. (Think Obama’s birth certificate, death panels, government option = communism etc.)

But what isn’t so widely acknowledged is how marketing agendas have shaped our understanding of health care. If you believe, for example, that no intervention is valid unless it has been studied in a randomly controlled double blind trial, you have been sold on a research method appropriate for testing toxic synthesized chemical developed by pharmaceutical companies–but perhaps un-necessary for less toxic substances, like foods and plants. This is just one example of the many ways that our attitudes about health have been imperceptibly shaped by corporate agendas.

As Weil notes, the concentration of corporate medical wealth has “made far too many Americans believe the myths that prop up our failing health-care system.”

Of course the biggest myth about American health care is that “because America has the most expensive health care in the world, it must have the best. The Reality: We rank #37 on a par with Serbia.”

These statistics reflect human realities that cause poor health, mortality, and suffering. As Weil points out, three-fourths of all Americans die from preventable diseases, diseases that have been on the rise for the last twenty-five years. Yet billions are spent on research and costly treatments that fail to prolong lives. “Survival with lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death, has improved by less than one month…” Weil writes.

“Why Our Health Matters” is an incisive analysis of what our system does well, what it does poorly, and how to fix it to improve outcomes and lower costs, and to make human need rather than corporate agendas primary.

To paraphrase Bill Moyers (who recently evoked the defining moment of the American Revolution), Americans must cross the Delaware and yank health care out of the hands of the mercenaries. Weil gives us a handbook for the health revolution.

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Copyright, 2009, Alison Rose Levy. All rights reserved.

You can, as long as you include this citation: by Alison Rose Levy: (sign up for the HealthOutlook ezine) Copyright © 2007 -2010 Alison Rose Levy. All rights reserved.
Categories : Health Care Reform
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Ted Kennedy and the End of All Health Care

Sunday, August 30th, 2009
Watching the funeral cortege of Senator Edward Kennedy inevitably triggered memories of the funeral of John F. Kennedy– the most tragic funeral of my time. The assassination broke America’s heart. Its now iconic images mirrored our shared grief. If those images could speak they would remind us that we mourned both the man and also the tremendous optimism he inspired, an optimism wounded but never killed. Read More→
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“When you’re in the executive offices… you don’t think about individual people. You think about the numbers and whether or not you’re going to meet Wall Street’s expectations… That enables you to stay there, if you don’t really think that you’re talking about and dealing with real human beings, ” Wendell Potter, former head of Corporate Communications for health insurance giant told Bill Moyers in his recently aired program. Read More→
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Not every health problem is an emergency. Unless you wait around and do nothing until it becomes one. Read More→

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Do You Have the Right to Choose Your Health Care?

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

I’m all for lowering health care costs by taking more responsibility for my health. As a health journalist and coach, I’m a champion of supporting people to improve their diet, upgrade their exercise, and manage stress.

But a little question: if we’re responsible, shouldn’t we also have the freedom to choose our health care? And shouldn’t we let the government know which of its policies support our health– or don’t? Read More→

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One likely aftermath of the recent Wall Street tremors is a next administration belt-tightening – which may impact one of this economy’s highest ticket items: health. This occurs just as we planned to bring millions more under the insurance umbrella. Something’s gotta give.

Though we need insurance coverage to prevent American families from going bankrupt due to catastrophic illness, for both economic and health reasons, health care reform must widen its reach to include integrative options that address the rampant chronic illnesses which gobble up most of our health care dollars.

Analogy time.

If you don’t change your car’s oil, your engine will burn out.

But let’s suppose a national monopoly licenses all gas stations making it standard procedure to replace engines rather than offer oil changes. In this scenario, your trusted mechanic claims oil changes don’t work. Following extensive advertising, many people believe them to be “dangerous.” Your neighbor, a retired mechanic, offers oil changes in his home garage. He’s considered a crank. Your sister-in-law goes regularly and encourages you to try an oil change. You’re skeptical.

This is our dilemma in health care. The dominant medical system is economically and scientifically bound to a narrow range of practices (and research models) while excluding integrative practices, along with research models that demonstrate their efficacy–particularly for chronic illness. The dominant system is sustained by pharmaceutical billions, much of it spent on marketing and lobbyists, bolstering ‘belief” in a system with significant shortfalls.

Most integrative practitioners agree that conventional medicine becomes necessary (and should be covered) for certain acute conditions. However integrative practices proactively treat incipient health imbalances to prevent, reduce, or delay the onset of many diseases. “Oil change” health care improves life quality and reduces costs long term.

Even though some 1.5 million people use integrative care, systemically the U.S. fails to access its fullest benefits because the dominant health franchise opposes it as a business competitor. When we allow marketplace forces to define health care (and science), we pay with our health. In the current economic climate, we no longer have the luxury of ignoring this reality.

These ten policy changes can begin to institute the best of integrative care:

1. Subsidize healthy food, tax both unhealthy food and its advertising. A thousand health books identify the foods contributing to epic overweight, obesity and diabetes. A miniscule tax on junk food could help cover costs of the proposed reform.

2. Incentivize schools, companies, universities, hospitals, and health clinics to offer training and support in foundational self-care practices for all ages. Include nutrition, fitness, stress management, addiction treatment, communication/ conflict resolution techniques, with counseling for trauma and major stressors.

3. Don’t confuse natural foods, products, and practices with toxic drugs and invasive surgeries – the former don’t require the same proofs of safety or efficacy so let’s allow people to elect their use.

4. Restrict television drug ads, which create demand for novel diseases designed by marketers. For toxic drugs, invasive surgeries, and vaccines, place the burden of proof of safety on the manufacturers, rather than indemnifying them.

5. The Body’s Oil Change: Ask integrative physicians to assemble the key diagnostic services that reveal health status including tests for inflammation, hormonal function, neurotransmitters, blood sugar regulation, organ function, cardiovascular fitness, mineral balance, nutrigenomics, bone density, and toxin levels–which will ascertain an individual’s risk factors to target treatments. Get group rates to make tests affordable.

6. Train nurses, nutritionists, and others to serve as Integrative Health Coaches offering regular follow-up care, lessening the burden on MDs and improving compliance.

7. Promote foods, tests, and treatments that help the body release the many toxins (such as industrial pollutants, pesticides, hormone disruptors, heavy metals, and infectious agents) to which we’re exposed now.

8. Test for and reduce all forms of environmental pollution that impact human and wildlife health, food, air, water, and agriculture.

9. Genetics reveals that people are biochemically unique. Support outcomes research into novel healing approaches that individualize treatment.

10. Down-regulate psychological pollution: The Climate of Fear communicated by government, the media, and films and television that emphasize crime, criminals, cops, the legal system, punishment, and violence negatively impacts people psychologically and physically. Work with trauma psychologists and the television and film industry to shift these cultural messages.

Finally, don’t put the wolves in charge of the chicken coop. In other words, don’t make conventional scientists the gatekeepers of integrative health research and reform. Be guided by the integrators.

Asserting that we have the best health care system in the world is equivalent to saying that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. According to the World Health Organization, we’re # 37 in health status. Health care isn’t about branding or profit, it’s about service.

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Resolving to Care: Integrative Health Care Reform

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

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

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The Imperfection of the Aspirin Quick Fix

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

In a recent Huffington Post, Dr. Rick Positano calls aspirin “perfect” – a “wonder drug” in preventing heart attacks, strokes, even colon cancer. As an integrative health journalist, I wanted to offer a different view.
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