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Obamacare to destroy medical freedom and alternative medicine?

Obamacare to destroy medical freedom and alternative medicine; Goodbye acupuncture, herbs & vitamins?

Welcome to the post-alternative medicine world!


© By Peter Barry Chowka


During the past three decades, alternative medicine - the use of herbs, nutritional supplements (vitamins), special diets, acupuncture, homeopathy, and more - has been embraced by the American public. Studies have found that 38 percent of American adults have actually used some form of alternative medicine. It has been so successful because of the climate of medical freedom in this country - unique in the world - which has been in effect since the time of the Founding Fathers.


As an aside, Dr. Michael Savage was a researcher and a leading author in this field (particularly nutritional and herbal medicine) before becoming a radio talk show host in 1994.


Alternative medicine is a case history in the potential of the free market - a case history in American freedom. But in recent years, the federal government has started to play a bigger role in alternative medicine, and has twisted it and stunted its growth. They have watered it down and renamed it "complementary alternative medicine" or CAM. Today, true alternative medicine is the canary in the coal mine. The Obama administration's plans for American health care, to expand the role of the government with more socialism, will destroy choice and freedom for everyone. The outlook for alternative medicine under Obamacare should concern every American.


(June 15, 2009, updated 6-16-2009) For about five years now, I have had the unenviable, depressing, and largely solitary task of documenting the gradual disappearance of alternative medicine from the American clinical landscape. (Its flourishing hybrid offshoot, CAM " complementary alternative medicine " is not an adequate substitute.) Initially, I titled articles examining this topic with a question mark, such as Is Alternative Medicine Dead? or The end of alternative medicine? In recent months, in light of the election of Barack H. Obama to the presidency and the Democrats super majorities in Congress - developments boding ill for alternatives, autonomy, and choice across the board - I have removed the qualifying question marks. And now, at last, we have a date for the official end of alternative medicine, and for the medical freedom on which alternative medicine is based: October 2009.


On June 12, 2009, the U.S. press reported that President Obama wants a universal health care bill on his desk by this coming October. The Democrats in Congress are promising to give it to him. Such legislation will forever change, for the worse, the practice of medicine including exponentially expanding the role of the anti-alt med federal government. It will also force all Americans for the first time to carry conventional allopathic medical insurance, whether they want it or not.


Now, consider that alternative medicine, like many innovations in medicine as a whole, has been able to grow and thrive in recent decades because people have had the ability and choice to pay for it themselves, almost exclusively out of their own pockets. Many people who are of independent mind and who are better educated have chosen not to invest in conventional medicine, including bloated insurance for conventional drug-based medical care that they don t want. Instead, people often direct their personal resources to healthy lifestyles and primary prevention (such as organic food, nutritional supplements, etc.) and to non-toxic, traditional, unconventional, or alternative treatments when they become ill.


Soon, when all Americans (except those who can prove poverty to a government apparatchik) will be required to pay thousands of dollars annually for conventional medical insurance, the ability to choose alternatives will be severely if not totally impaired.


Beyond the coming conventional allopathic insurance mandate, which will make not carrying government -approved health insurance a violation of the law, the plans for universal health care proposed by President Obama and the Democrats will severely restrict freedom and choice in many areas, including the availability of medical alternatives. Already, for example, government policies have resulted in the almost total disappearance of a once thriving area, alternative cancer therapies.


Now, the government is proposing not only to pay for more conventional health care for everyone including up to 30 million illegal immigrants, at a cost that may run into the trillions of dollars, but to expand its control of the practice of medicine to its very core, at every level of clinical practice, public or private.


The theory of Obama, the Democrats, and the left wing/socialist policy wonks they follow is that all medical care in the U.S. needs to be studied more rigorously, with clinical options that supposedly work and are the most cost effective identified (by evidence based medicine ); doctors can then be pressured into using the therapeutic options (specific drugs and so on) that the bureaucrats anoint, citing the evidence. According to this rationale, waste will be eliminated and better care will be guaranteed. This new statist Holy Grail of scientism is called comparative effectiveness. It will replace the traditional centuries-long autonomy of the free market-oriented doctor-patient relationship that is based on individual care.


Current plans for universal health care will severely restrict freedom and choice in many areas, including the availability of medical alternatives.


This unproven new evidence-based scheme is largely modeled on one-size-fits-all socialized medicine in the U.K. The British bureaucracy that regulates medical care is called NICE (The National Institute for Clinical Excellence). The ironically named NICE has been cited by members of the Obama administration as a model for their plans for America. The bureaucrats who make up NICE supposedly objectively evaluate medical treatments, procedures, and drugs and determine which ones are the most clinically- and cost-effective within their politically determined global budget constraints. Clinical practitioners including medical doctors then receive the official cookbook of allowed treatments, ordering them what they can and cannot provide to their patients. Evidence-based medicine is a clinical straitjacket.


NICE, which has been around since 1999, has been embroiled in controversy in the U.K. On this side of the Atlantic, meanwhile, independent health care analysts who have studied the situation, including David Catron, have observed that NICE regularly hands down death sentences to gravely ill patients by denying treatments based on cost. Another observer, Bernadine Healy, M.D., former head of the National Institutes of Health, noted that the U.S. government s Medicare program already employs NICE-like restrictions. Medicare, Healy writes in U.S. News & World Report:


"Will not pay for certain complications related to care that it deems negligent, such as a bedsore or a postoperative wound infection. In the Obama scheme, adherence to designated standards of care, which would be easy to monitor online, is likely to quickly become part of insurance reimbursement. The practice standards would rest on that other pillar of reform, comparative effectiveness."


Then there is the issue of electronic medical records (EMRs) which Obama is demanding that every American buy into. EMRs are a linchpin of any statist universal health care/reform scheme and are an Orwellian nightmare. (I have written about the dangers of EMRs and evidence-based medicine here and here.) It should also be obvious that any clinician who is doing anything that might be considered alternative or unconventional can easily be monitored and identified (and reigned in, prosecuted, or worse) when the government has instant electronic access to the detailed personal history of everyone s health status and his or her previously private medical treatments.


The non-partisan Institute for Health Freedom (IHF) in Washington, D.C. has been leading the charge for years on issues relating to medical freedom, autonomy, and choice. In its monthly newsletter Health Freedom Watch (June 2009), the IHF writes:


"There has never been a more important time than now for health-freedom advocates to speak up. Our nation is facing its most important health-reform decision ever:  Mandatory or voluntary health insurance?. . . For health-freedom advocates, the key issue we should focus on is freedom of choice. The Founders and many heroes fought hard over the years for our independence and freedom, and we should continue to cherish and preserve those precious values.  To that end, we should make sure everyone is free to choose his or her health insurance and opt out of any mandatory scheme altogether, thereby maintaining the freedom from being coerced into a limited choice of plans dictated either by government or the private insurance industry.  Also, all should be free to maintain confidential patient-doctor (and other provider) relationships.  And no senior should be forced to give up his or her Social Security benefits for refusing to join Medicare Part A (hospital insurance).  This is especially important when a bill now in Congress (H.R. 2520) would require biometric identifiers for all Medicare beneficiaries." [emphasis original]


 $2.5 billion in government research supposedly proves that alternative medicine doesn't work!


On June 10, 2009, the Associated Press (AP) distributed an Impact feature article, highly relevant to this topic; it was widely republished all over the world. Individual news outlets and broadcasters  put their own titles on it, two representative examples being Alternative medicines shown to be ineffective after $2.5 billion in tests (the New York Daily News) and $2.5B spent, no alternative med cures (Yahoo! News).


The dateline for the article was Bethesda, Maryland, the location of the government s sprawling National Institutes of Health mega-bureaucracy and its National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).  In fact, over the past decade, the NCCAM has spent over $2 billion in tax dollars funding studies on various CAM (complementary alternative medicine) treatments and modalities. After that significant investment, in an economy that is now broke, the AP article concludes, the disappointing answer seems to be that almost none of them do [sic] work.


Not only that. Adding insult to injury, the article quickly launches a secondary theme, one that is increasingly popular in mainstream medical, and government, circles - the purported scientific implausibility of much of alternative medicine:


The government also is funding studies of purported energy fields, distance healing and other approaches that have little if any biological plausibility or scientific evidence.


Taxpayers are bankrolling studies of whether pressing various spots on your head can help with weight loss, whether brain waves emitted from a special master can help break cocaine addiction, and whether wearing magnets can help the painful wrist problem, carpal tunnel syndrome.


The acupressure weight-loss technique won a $2 million grant even though a small trial of it on 60 people found no statistically significant benefit - only an encouraging trend that could have occurred by chance. The researcher says the pilot study was just to see if the technique was feasible.


Various critics of alternative medicine are quoted, including the first director of the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM), the NCCAM s predecessor, Joseph Jacobs, M.D.


The AP article is accurate is far as it goes. As usual, however, the subjective truth of the matter lies somewhere in the complex gray area that is not covered - one that remains between the lines of the story.


As one who was present as an invited participant and advisor at the start-up of the Office of Alternative Medicine in 1992, none of this news is surprising, especially as I look back with 20/20 hindsight at what has happened since then. I have written numerous articles about the ultimate futility of the NCCAM s work, focused as it is on CAM (and relatively little on true alternative medicine) and employing research methodologies that pretty much ensure failure.


The fact is that most of the government s research on primary alternative medicine treatments, going back to the 1970s, seems to have been designed to disprove alternative medicine. Examples include numerous flawed studies on vitamin C and cancer, an area pioneered by, among others, two-time Nobel Prize-winning scientist Linus Pauling, Ph.D. (1901-1994). The system is little more than a permanent kangaroo court, with alt med proponents perpetually in the dock. Even winning two unshared Nobel Prizes, like Linus Pauling did, is not enough.



Westfields Conference Center


Awhile back, I viewed a camcorder recording that I had made in September 1992 at the big launch of the Office of Alternative Medicine at a three day Alternative Medicine Workshop conference at the luxurious Westfields Conference Center in Chantilly, Virginia. I had not seen the video in years, and parts of it were revelatory. In particular, during a panel discussion, someone asked what the federal government at this early stage of its involvement could do to help advance the interests of alternative medicine. Leading alternative cancer innovator and clinician Stanislaw Burzynski, M.D., Ph.D., one of the participants (who, a few years later would be prosecuted twice by the Clinton administration's Department of Justice and found not guilty both times), replied (I don't have the tape at hand so this is a paraphrase), "They could leave us alone."


If only his advice had been followed...



An epiphany during a late night mainstream media broadcast:


As occasionally happens, insights and epiphanies can come when one is not expecting them. In the early morning hours of June 11, 2009, I switched the cable TV channel to Fox News, the most-watched cable television news network in the United States, which was then broadcasting its late night program Red Eye.  Greg Gutfeld, 44, ironically (as we shall see) a former writer for Prevention magazine and editor-in-chief of Men s Health, is the host of Red Eye, a seriocomic look at the news with a panel of regular contributors and guests.


At that moment, the topic under discussion was Government issues reality check on herbal, alternative remedies.


Greg Gutfeld: It turns out herbal and alternative health remedies are actually bunkier than something really bunk. It s true! The government has been testing these pseudo solutions for the past ten years at a cost of almost $2.5 billion dollars and has found that almost none of these things work.


Cynara Coomer, M.D.


Gutfeld then turned to one of his guests, a striking blonde woman who looked like a Fox News anchor but in reality was, according to Gutfeld, the hottest doctor on the planet, Cynara Coomer, M.D., a breast cancer surgeon and professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.


Gutfeld: Were you surprised to learn that these alternative remedies were a bunch of claptrap?


Cynara Coomer, M.D.: Yeah, a lot of them are, absolutely, but some of them are not. Some of them should be combined with regular medicine or conventional medicine, as we know it, but, yes, some of them are so bizarre that, yes, it s a shame that people actually wind up wasting their money on what they re reading on the Internet. . .


Gutfeld: The media likes to paint these holistic cures as something noble or helpful, when, really, they re just faddish and stupid.


Coomer: Right. . . To be in [conventional] medicine right now in this day and age and the treatments that we can offer to, to our patients - it's exciting because we can see a tremendous amount of difference. And so that's why it actually is a shame for, for me to have my patients say, "You know, I think I want to go seek out some alternative treatment", or they wanna look up some other diet that they think is, is going to be their sole treatment or their sole cure for their disease. Yeah, that s tough to live with.


This silly segment went on for about six minutes, and by the end of it, I realized that the government's $2.5 billion investment in testing alternative medicine that began seventeen years ago had actually achieved quite a lot - in a way that was originally unexpected by alt med proponents. That is, it had achieved a lot for alt med's critics, including big government, big Pharma, the medical-industrial complex, etc. These days, as far as the federal budget goes, $2.5 billion over 17 years is a relative pittance.  As a comparison, the New England Journal of Medicine reported in an article on August 17, 2007 that the U.S. pharmaceutical industry spent $29.9 billion on advertising in one year alone, 2005.

Nation's Restaurant News reported on April 11, 2005, meanwhile, that the 2003 advertising budget for the fast food giant McDonald s Corporation was $1.21 billion. For only twice that amount, alternative medicine has now been effectively dissed for all time, supposedly disproven by science and removed from discussion as a serious clinical option.

And most conveniently, this flawed finding has landed just as the nation is about to upend its entire medical system with government-run universal health care. Pie in the sky Obama followers (proponents of complementary alternative medicine who post comments like Obama is in my view a wonderful president are typical) outnumber realists in the complementary alternative medicine world by at least 100:1. They continue to hold out hope that evidence can somehow be mobilized to prove CAM s effectiveness and ensure for it a prominent place in any government-run universal health care scheme.

Based on my long experience, and on common sense, I would venture to say, however, Think again.


Peter Barry Chowka is a writer and investigative journalist who writes about politics, health care, and the media. He is a regular contributor to American Thinker.