It happened again in Washington.
After spending seven years pointing fingers and the past few weeks trying to craft legislation that would appease various political factions, our elected officials failed in their attempt at “health care reform.” That’s in quotes because the American Health Care Act, much like the Affordable Care Act, had little to do with reforming health care. It had everything to do with reforming health insurance.
Think about who was involved in this process – politicians, health insurance executives, big pharma, and plenty of lobbyists.
Where were the doctors and researchers? Did anyone bother to mention the chronic illness epidemic that’s responsible for seven in 10 deaths each year and 86 percent of our nation’s health care costs?
This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue. This is a health issue, and a dire one, that neither side of the aisle seems to grasp. If health care reform is ever going to take place, we need to shift the conversation from health insurance to health care.
The key to reducing health care costs is to make people healthier. Period. The only way to make people healthier is to focus on the prevention and reversal of chronic illness.
The Current Sick Care Model
Conventional medicine does a fine job at treating acute illness and injuries. If you have an infection, you get an antibiotic. If you break your arm, you go the emergency room, get an x-ray, and apply a splint or cast.
But the existing health care model has done an awful job at addressing chronic illnesses such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
We get sick. We go to the doctor. We get a prescription for medication. We go home.
If warning signs of chronic illness are detected, conventional medicine tends to take a “wait and see” approach. For example, if blood pressure is elevated, wait until it enters a range in which it’s officially classified as high blood pressure. Then prescribe medication to lower blood pressure, but gloss over what caused it to increase in the first place.
As a result, the vicious cycle of getting sick and taking prescription drugs never ends.
This is the “sick care” model that has been practiced in our country for decades. Instead of proactively preventing chronic illness by attacking the root cause, sick care reactively treats disease, often at the symptom level. This model has contributed to the chronic illness epidemic in our country, the habitual use of prescription drugs, and skyrocketing health care and insurance costs.
A True Health Care Model
The vast majority of chronic illnesses are caused by lifestyle choices and, as a result, are highly preventable and even reversible. But this requires a comprehensive exam, medical history, testing and investigation to get to the root cause of the problem, the development of customized clinical nutrition and exercise programs, ongoing education and support, and regular follow-up to monitor progress.
When was the last time you went through these processes with your doctor? When was the last time your doctor worked with you to develop a long-term wellness plan?
This is called functional medicine. It focuses on patient care, not disease care. The goal is to restore and maintain balance across all of the body’s interconnected systems – physically, nutritionally and psychologically – so you can feel better, function better, and live as many disease-free years as possible.
True health care is about becoming educated and implementing a true wellness plan. This is how you make permanent behavioral and lifestyle changes that reverse and prevent chronic illness, which is far less expensive than reactively treating chronic illness with drugs and surgery.
Have you heard any of this during the endless debates about health care reform? Neither have I.
The New Conversation
Not coincidentally, the approach taken to health care reform in Washington is similar to the current sick care model. It focuses on symptoms such as process and high costs and fails to address the root cause of the problem.
That needs to change.
It’s time to talk about making people healthier and reversing the chronic illness epidemic in our country. We need to prioritize and implement wellness plans at the individual level and the corporate level if we’re going to reduce the cost of health care.
Individuals need to become educated and seek out functional medicine practitioners who focus on disease prevention. Progress has been made in the workplace, but we need to get beyond weight loss contests and develop real wellness programs that improve productivity and reduce absenteeism, and thereby reduce insurance premiums.
Our elected officials need to make chronic illness part of the health care reform conversation. Right now, our health care system is comprised of two layers. We have a layer of emergency and traumatic care, and we have a fragmented layer of various types of health care providers and specialists. Between those two layers, we need a new layer that’s defined, credentialed and committed to preventing and reversing chronic illness. This requires a new kind of doctor – a prevention specialist who is board certified in functional medicine.
This is how you make people healthier. This is how you reduce reliance on prescription drugs. This is how you reduce health care costs. This is how you reduce health insurance premiums.
If we’re really going to reform health care, we need to change the conversation.