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Why Insurance for All Is Not Enough To Solve Our Health Care Crisis

Our current health care system cannot be usefully reformed simply by making insurance available for those who can't afford it. We must also start looking at the lifestyles that make people sick in the first place.
 
 
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With a national election approaching as well as the release of a new film by Michael Moore about our health care system, there will soon be even more focus and rhetoric about health care policy in the media. Clearly, it is a perfect time to rally support for a paradigm shift in our approach to health care and therefore our approach to living.

When I was 16 years old, at a time when no one was talking about such things, my gym teacher spent one class session teaching our whole class something called "concentrated relaxation," and that session changed my life. I realized that I had never really relaxed. In this culture, we teach children EVERYTHING, except how to relax and get truly calm and mellow (drug free). Much of what people do that they call relaxing is actually highly stimulating and distracting and a "change of pace," but it is anything but relaxing. This brain candy habit actually keeps people from being able to focus, work effectively and be happy and healthy.

Now, I'm lucky to get to teach meditation, relaxation, stress reduction and other preventative health care on a regular basis to a variety of students, organizations and friends. My work keeps me calm and aspiring to embody equanimity, and it's easier to do because I really practice what I preach, though that's a work in progress. As a long time practitioner of acupuncture and related healing arts, I am less at ease because of the way the conventional medical world is relating to my world of healing. It is re-inventing it, re-defining it, often denying the heart of it, and trying to control it. It is transforming it into a more feel-good form of allopathic medicine, a perfect fit for a culture that wants to be healthy, but doesn't want to have to work too hard or take too much responsibility to achieve that goal. The trend also exists within my own profession, away from the spirit of healing and into the business of health care. Healing always involves slowing down, deeply relaxing, become more self aware and thus able to care for oneself happily.

As one of the first generation of non-physician healing practitioners to practice traditional Chinese acupuncture within this country, I was one of the people who made edgy, fringey, far out treatment modalities understood and perceived as highly effective, powerful and worthy of both further study and acceptance. My generation of healers made acupuncture and other forms of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) safe for the conventional medical profession to explore.

Before us, people who talked about vibrations, and chi, and nutrition, and chi kung, and tai chi and herbal medicine and meridians were treated as marginal weirdos, and doctors who talked about these things were considered "quacks." Times have changed, and it is good that more conventional MD's are embracing healing modalities, but they do not always show adequate respect for their predecessors or for the true nature of natural healing medicine. Now, in a very short time, a MD can get accredited as a "holistic" doctor, and I have yet to figure out what that actually means. In many cases the MD practitioners of holistic, or as many of them like to say, "integrative" medicine don't actually know how to put their hands on people and DO anything to help them feel better. They often know something about food and teach people much of the common sense information about whole, natural, unadulterated foods that non-physician healers have been telling people for generations. They often prescribe a lot of food supplements, which it is turning out, are often used "out of context." That is, these very pricey supplements are used out of the context of whole foods and the micro- and macro- nutrient combinations whole foods involve, and therefore are often of dubious and questionable health benefits, despite huge costs. Be wary of a doctor whose main treatment modality is expensive blood tests that aren't covered by your insurance followed by a long list of expensive food supplements.

The new wave of so-called integrative physicians have co-opted the term integrative, but is unclear to me what they are integrating. They claim to bridge body and mind, when the truth is that Oriental medical theory understood over a thousand years ago that there is no bridge necessary between body and mind because they have never been separate. Interesting evidence and details from "Western" science are emerging to prove this fact.

Last year, I took my daughter to a cardiologist for a stress echo-cardiogram because she was having very rapid heart beat. After hundreds of dollars worth of tests showing how healthy her heart was, this liberal-minded integrative doctor told my daughter that she had to learn to relax ... and then walked out of the room. He didn't give her any practical instruction, advice or skills for HOW TO RELAX.

In the Oriental medical tradition, meditation, relaxation and contemplative movement have always been part of the medicine. Chinese Medicine has always been about the whole person, and everything about the person has always been meaningful in the diagnosis. The colors you like to wear, the seasons you like and dislike, the time of day you have good energy and energy slumps, the sound of your voice, the color tone of the skin around your eyes, your emotional state, your odor, the quality of the pulses on your wrist, the color, coating, cracks and other properties of your tongue ... all of these and many more are important in the diagnosis. In Chinese Medicine we integrate the traditional aspects of healing: way of life, education and the closely connected dietary practices, herbal medicine gleaned from the plants growing around the region of both patient and doctor, acupuncture, acupressure, moxabustion (burning of mugwort on acupuncture points), all or most of these are involved with every patient. This is the ancient and original integrative medicine.

There is no use talking about health care reform unless we are willing to acknowledge that the system we currently have is dis-integrated and cannot be usefully reformed. It must be transformed into a system and a way of life, which truly encourages, sustains and promotes health, respects traditional healing practices and prevents dis-ease. Integrative medicine can only be about promoting lives of INTEGRITY which allow access to health as opposed to access to health care. If we argue that access to health care is a right, how much more important is it in the long run to argue that access to healthy living is a right. Though I myself healed from locally metastasized breast cancer without resorting to conventional oncology, I question whether I would have been able to do so if I weren't in the privileged position of practicing what I preach and living in a more balanced, healing and healthy way. Ultimately it's living healthfully that should be considered a more important right than the right to have access to the current system of disease care.

Simply getting insurance available for those who can't afford it, though a noble and important goal, will not necessarily do much to improve health. Consider the reality of how people are actually living. I have prepared a statement on what I call "healthy care." This is what must develop as the fundamental system of healthy living if our society is not to perish of both ill health and budget demise in the face of upward spiraling disease care costs.

Karen Kisslinger writes a regular "Way of Life" column for the Healthy Living section of the Poughkeepsie Journal, has written for national magazines, and has a daily radio show on WKZE in the Mid-Hudson Valley called: "Time to Relax."

 
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