The Fierce Urgency of Now: This is the Moment for Sane Health Care Policy

Last week a friend of mine who is a family doctor told me about a patient of his who came in regularly for years for visits, weighing about 320 pounds, which was over 100 pounds over his recommended weight.

This patient was suffering from Diabetes, Coronary Heart Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis and High Blood Pressure, to name only the most serious of his health concerns.

My friend never pressured the patient, but did advise him about losing weight and making some healthier life decisions. Years went by and the patient didn’t change anything. Any one of the above mentioned diseases is in a category of illness that cost our health economy tens and even hundreds of billions of dollars every year. This patient used all of those resources with no intention or hope of recovery or healing. Nothing in our mainstream health care system told him that he could heal and be a healthy person again.

And then one day, the patient had had enough. He did something no one else could make him do. He took it upon himself to have stomach manipulating surgery and proceeded to lose 150 pounds in one and a half years. It was a spectacularly successful decision in personal health care reform.

Instead of plodding along year after year taking numerous very expensive medications, devices, measurements, scans, screen and other tests, our patient gradually, over the course of the first year, left behind all of his symptoms. His diabetes, his high blood pressure, his coronary heart disease and his rheumatoid arthritis, all of which he had been taught or just assumed he would have to just “live with”, all went away… completely. He had been on 12 medications. Now he is on one medication. That is real health care reform, and talk about saving on prescription drugs!

This is a true story. Rheumatoid Arthritis can go away. High Blood Pressure can go away. Coronary heart disease can go away. We know this thanks to the painstaking long term work of Dean Ornish. Diabetes II can go away. Everybody knows this, and knows even more importantly that it can be prevented in most cases by changes in diet, exercise and other life style practices.

There cannot be true health care reform until the reality that diseases can be healed become part of mainstream American health culture. High tech. medicine is great for the crisis, life-saving stage, but then comes the healing stage which require different knowledge, priorities, and patience. I was in the hospital last week with high fever and an infection, and the very nice Chinese doctor who was treating me got talking with me about my acupuncture practice. During the conversation she shared how her parents taught her to “read faces” when she was a child..and other aspects of traditional diagnosis. As she whisked away to answer a page she said: “For these emergencies Western medicine is best, but for everything else, Chinese Medicine is better.”

I myself had a patient last summer, who when I started to explain to her one doctor’s very successful cure rate with Rheumatoid Arthirits patients, stopped me and said…in her 75 year old absolute voice: “Rheumatoid arthritis cannot be cured”. She really did not want to know. She had suffered much of her life, her relatives who had died had suffered from it, and it wasn’t in her medical religion to believe that healing of that disease was possible; but it is possible with different resources than those currently comprising the standard of care.

Unless government and the people require and live a new orientation which eradicates some of our most common health problems, insurance care reform does little to truly reform health care; it will just changes how we pay for it and who makes or loses how much money in the process.

Cost containment will be difficult until we prevent those tens of thousands of cases of Type II Diabetes, because otherwise we are going to spend untold billions of currently profit-making dollars treating it. This is the insanity of our system, and it is not going to be fixed until the huge profits are taken out of our private insurance based disease care system.

So, the urgency of now. A majority of the American people want a public option and want predictable, secure access to health care. During the years that we might be re-orienting to make access to health an even more important right than access to health care (they’re not the same thing), we can surely become a more social society by providing for the care of collective bodies and minds in a way which doesn’t force people to lose their homes, their jobs or otherwise ruin their lives.

Until the profit essence is taken off the table and progressive, prevention based health care is understood to be a basic public service, just as our military is, there will be no meaningful health care reform in America. Perhaps the naysayers will be willing to give me a suitable answer to the question of why government sponsored socialism in the form of tax-supported war is OK but government sponsored compassionate and universal care of the health and well-being of citizens is socialist evil. Many seem willing to simply leave outside the system altogether those unfortunate enough to not be able to feed the insurance profit appetite.

Until prevention is stressed and health care is understood as a basic human right, like the right to have firefighters if your house is burning down or teachers if your children need education, there will be no meaningful health care reform in America. This week, President Obama must not back down or away from the demand for a strong and competitive public option finally!

Many have said that it’s better to go for some good changes than risk getting no good change by insisting on too much too fast. Momentum for a public option has been building in this country for decades, at least since the 1940s. That’s not too fast. It may be too slow. Right now let’s just say….as Goldilocks did: “It’s just right”…and seize this moment as the historical one where America, despite extremists on the very ends of the spectrum, leaps into the land of saner health care.

This is it: the Now that is so urgent!