One nearly invisible aspect of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act discussion is the role that an integrated approach to medical modalities will play in the implementation of the health insurance mandate beginning January 2014.
As one who follows this discussion, I’m encouraged by the prevalent positive reports on the effectiveness of these therapies and their growing use by the public. A recent policy review of the data indicates that traditional medical practitioners are beginning to include the use of integrative medicines, which include alternative and complementary therapies. While I and many others have found using prayer alone for treatment very effective, prayer and other non-traditional approaches appear especially useful when fostering happiness, decreasing stress, and increasing longevity – just to name a few.
While these methods can be effective, some methods used in prevention and assessment for early disease detection are being judged overall as ineffective, expensive, and in some cases counter-productive. The surge on the part of the public in the use of alternative therapies – paying for them out of pocket (estimated at $34 billion per year) – indicates a need to provide professional guidance as well as support for what the public is demanding.
To hear firsthand more about alternative health care policy, I joined a large group of interested citizens at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica. Drs. Jan Coulter, David Eisenberg, and Wayne Jonas have worked in this area for 25 to 30 years and have been involved in almost every major study concerning this topic. These knowledgeable and experienced individuals were able to bring a sense of balance to an unwieldy and undefined area of integrative health care.
In defining integrative and complementary medicines, Dr. Eisenberg admitted that it is a linguistic challenge. However, he did supply a friend’s definition: medicines which were used routinely and which were needed to stay well, yet about which he was not comfortable talking with his oncologist. More simply, integrative medicines are typically those medicines one pays for out of one’s own pocket because insurance doesn’t cover them.
Dr. Jonas spoke eloquently about the need for scientific evidence (not anecdotal), and said that policies should be based on this evidence. When the question was raised about science not being able to measure this type of evidence, he was quick to respond that science is going to need to “rise to the occasion.”
The policy issues are many, but clearly there is growth in the public’s use of integrative health care, alternative medicine, and complementary therapies, and the public’s voice should be heard in any policy considerations.
How do we create policies guiding this development, which allow for this input? The present implementation of the ACA does not consider this input a priority.
With the public spending over $34 billion a year on complementary and alternative therapies, now seems the right time to provide a health care system that includes them.
photo by Ky Olsen