"A Return to Healing" Blog: Thu, 10/08/2009 - 12:41 — BBelitsos
Not too surprisingly, the Senate Finance Committee’s pro-corporate health-care reform bill received a financial thumbs up this week (on October 7) from the Congressional Budget Office. The committee's unambitious proposal insures another 29 million Americans—while leaving 25 million still uninsured. (Let 'em tough it out in the streets, I guess.) To its credit, the bill meets Obama’s pledge to not add “one dime” to the deficit, and in fact may save money over time through better management of Medicare cuts and special new taxes. That said, it may be instructive to contrast this band-aid approach to reform to Dr. Len Saputo’s own distinguished medical career: Sadly, the trajectory of his work—and that of thousands of other courageous practitioners—leads to the inexorable conclusion that current efforts at reform are based on the wrong diagnosis. In fact, the measures being debated in Congress are tragically misguided. The Congress and the President say that our health is their goal, but in truth they aren’t focused on the wellness of the American people. Instead, their prescription for change is simply about finance—finding more equitable ways to fund the high-tech care of sick people. Their diagnosis is about money, not health, and even on its own terms this approach won’t work very well—not even the single-payer insurance or public option schemes that we do provisionally support.
In his book Dr. Saputo offers a better diagnosis and a far more cost-effective solution for our health care dilemma. First, he explains why better financing of the current system will never work if the goal is a healthier America. Our current system, he says, is focused entirely on “disease care,” and especially on how to make money practicing disease care. It encourages an economic system that parasitizes on the poor health habits of Americans. Worse, it creates powerful lobbies for industries that are entrenched in profiting off of care of the sick and on making sure that prevention is a very low priority. This approach militates toward more disease and more treatment—and higher costs. But if health is the goal, then another diagnosis is needed, and Dr. Saputo provides it: our current disease-care system is itself the problem. We must overcome our almost exclusive emphasis on managing disease “after the fact.” This involves two big advances: switching to (1) a new model of medicine based on a different understanding of human biology, plus (2) a vastly increased emphasis on prevention and health promotion.
Dr. Saputo’s career illustrates by his own footsteps the path that must be taken. Many years of dissatisfaction with practicing primary care medicine culminated in his witnessing the near death of his wife at the hands of the sick-care system. Now awakened, he began to urgently research the emergent model of medicine that is based on our innate capacity for self-healing, which goes by many names today: integrative medicine, natural healing, or functional medicine. Saputo soon founded a movement among health practitioners called the Health Medicine movement that is based on this model; and this led to his founding of a new integrative clinic called the Health Medicine Center. More recently, this work has now culminated in his broad efforts to get America back to health education and prevention by leading innovative wellness programs at the grassroots level, such as the Wellness City Challenge (wellnesscitychallenge.com). Today America is victimized by a underfunded public health systems; inadequate health education for its youth; a corrupted research establishment that often ignores the science underlying the causes of disease; an almost non-existent prevention infrastructure; a population plagued by preventable chronic diseases; a medical system geared to high-tech answers to problems that are primarily rooted in unhealthy lifestyle habits; and an economic system that capitalizes on these deficits for the sake of profit. It’s time to turn that system on its head—if it has a head left.