Lately, I’ve been listening to debates going on in Congress, in the media, and among friends about the topic of our healthcare system in the United States. As you know, the Republicans have been vowing and voting to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) for 7 or 8 years now. However, even with both the Legislative and Executive branches of government now in Republican hands, they still seem embarrassingly unprepared to right the problem that they have decried for so long.
Although, between the current Republican and Democratic approaches, I think the Republican one is crueler, in this blog, I am not going to take sides one way or the other. I think it is all too apparent that, regardless which political party is in power, American healthcare is:
- Expensive–both from overpricing and from over-usage
- Full of improper incentives to overuse technology and other services
- Dependent on prescription drugs, which themselves are overpriced
- Focused too much on illness rather than wellness
- Fragmented and duplicative
- Overly influenced or controlled by special interest groups
Instead, I’d like to point out why neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will ever be successful in their goals if their overall thinking about health doesn’t change.
I worked in the healthcare industry both directly and indirectly for quite a few years, first as part of senior management at a Blue Cross & Blue Shield plan and later as a business consultant with many clients in healthcare, including a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO), several hospitals, a commercial insurer, and several doctors’ groups. Even after retiring from that work, I have watched developments closely because of my interest in the field. I have seen the myriad problems from the inside.
In addition, I have had to “work the system” myself as a consumer for my own family and as a fiduciary for my father with respect to Medicare, the government’s Prescription Drug Program, and the Veterans Administration benefits program. It has been a nightmare, to put it bluntly.
While I think that everyone should be able to get care when they are sick, my experience convinces me that big bureaucracy makes any effort to actually care for people or help them pay for that care worse, not better. I am equally convinced that the system is fatally flawed in several ways, that no amount of “market forces,” “free choice” or “greater accessibility” will redeem. So, I think both the Democrats and Republicans have it wrong.
My worldview, inspired by Seth, influences my thoughts on this matter. However, as Seth always instructed his readers to do, I have tested my beliefs for myself and examined them with an open mind. Nonetheless, I try to remember philosopher, Jacob Neddleman’s, timeless advice: “You should be open-minded but not so open-minded that your brains fall out.”
Although I have had my thoughts on this matter for years, they were just a farrago of ideas in my mind—until recently. I just read a new book by an author, Amit Goswami, whose previous books I liked. This new one is called Quantum Economics: Unleashing the Power of an Economics of Consciousness, which brought all my inchoate thoughts together. In it, Goswami puts forward the idea that scientific materialism (the belief that only physical reality is real) has biased our science, economics, academic research, our ideas about money and careers, and virtually every area of life, and that no amount of economic manipulation can correct the underlying flaw in that worldview. I agree with him.
He identifies the underlying problem as a lack of acceptance that there is more to life than just matter or, to put it another way, to a belief that only things that can be scientifically measured or counted are real. Some people won’t even understand what that criticism means; but we Seth readers are well aware that there are indeed different planes of consciousness.
Of course, denying the existence of all but material or measurable things is ridiculous. We all have feelings and emotions that can’t be measured. We feel an inner vitality and interest in life that can’t be measured. We look for meaning and fulfillment in our lives that can’t be satisfied with just material things. We have values that matter to us that defy quantification. And, most importantly, we all experience love, which is also beyond measurement.
Yet our economic system doesn’t account for any of those things. You won’t find a factor in GDP that assess how much meaning or love is moving around the country at any time. But it clearly does matter, doesn’t it?
How does Goswami’s theory apply to healthcare? Surprisingly, the values that he identifies as missing from our system coordinate nicely with many of Seth’s statements on the subject, which I will address in a moment.
The bottom line to our healthcare problem is that too many people are “sick;” that the way we treat these people often does not solve the problem or can even make them worse; and that treating them this way perpetuates the problems and is the very reason costs keep going up. Whether we pay for health insurance with subsidies or tax credits, we are not addressing the root problem. We have to concentrate on how to keep people from being sick. And, as usual, Seth’s advice is unconventional.
Before we get to Seth’s ideas on health and illness, let me give you one example of the problem with our system from my own experience.
I have for many years had problems with my feet. At the age of 27 I had surgery for bunions on both feet. I was hospitalized in Boston for a full week, had casts on both legs for 6 weeks, and was out of work for 2 weeks. I don’t remember now what the hospital and doctor costs were, but you can be sure they were huge bills, which my employer-based health insurance covered at the time.
Since then, I still experience foot problems now and then. For almost 5 years I suffered from a neuroma in one foot, which hurt more each year. (A neuroma is a small tumor that forms from aggravated nerves.) I tried orthotics and proper shoes to ease the pain, with limited success. Eventually, I saw a podiatrist who took X-rays and then told me that there was nothing I could do other than surgery. The catch was that the surgery didn’t really eliminate the neuroma; the surgeon would simply sever the nerves around the neuroma so that I would no longer feel the pain. I thought this was outrageous and I had no intention of doing that.
I researched other options and found a local acupuncturist with high ratings. On the first visit, I asked if she would be able to help. I told her what the X-ray had shown. She said matter-of-factly that, yes, she would be able to help me but that it would not be instantaneous since I had let the problem go for so long. I went twice a week for about a month and then once a week for another month and a half. At the end of the treatment, I had no pain from the neuroma and it has not returned. That was two years ago.
So, for a cost of just over $1000, I was cured, not to mention that I never had to endure surgery. Of course, none of my costs were covered by insurance. I wasn’t just relieved of pain; the neuroma had disappeared. How do you think the cost of surgery, specialists, and undoubtedly some prescription pain killer or antibiotics would compare? And, I never once waited at the acupuncturist’s office; the visits were relaxing, restful, and on time. Multiply the savings from my one case millions of times, and you can figure for yourself how much money and stress could be eliminated from our system.
I’m not saying that acupuncture is the key to everything; I am saying that there are many relatively simple ways to care for ourselves that are affordable, available, and which achieve excellent results. Some can help us heal, others help us change our lifestyle or ease chronic conditions. Besides acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is chiropractic, Ayurvedic medicine (an ancient Indian practice that eliminates imbalances within the body), homeopathy, biofeedback, hypnosis, meditation, mental health therapy, and many others types of treatments.
Of course, there will most likely always be a need for so-called, scientific medicine or Western medicine. However, the need for acute care and much of long-term care for chronic diseases would be greatly diminished if we pre-empted problems from reaching the point where we needed the more expensive treatments. I was able to afford this alternative treatment, even though it wasn’t covered by insurance. Others who are not as fortunate, would be steered into the most expensive and disruptive options. How perverse!
In Part II, we will see how Seth’s advice on healthcare differs from the approach we are currently taking.