Alternative Medicine Versus Medicare For All?

Traditional medical providers may consider alternative medicine a rival to Western medicine, but their patients have given their stamp of approval by spending $35 billion a year on alternative medical treatments, sometimes called CAM (complementary and alternative medicine).  So it’s not surprising that some of the nation’s biggest hospitals have recognized the lucrative potential of alternative medicine and are now joining forces with alternative medical providers.

What are alternative treatments exactly?  According to an article on

While there is no official list of what alternative medicine actually comprises, treatments falling under the umbrella typically include acupuncture, homeopathy (the administration of a glass of water supposedly containing the undetectable remnants of various semi-toxic substances), chiropractic, herbal medicine, Reiki (“laying on of hands,” or “energy therapy”), meditation (now often called “mindfulness”), massage, aromatherapy, hypnosis, Ayurveda (a traditional medical practice originating in India), and several other treatments not normally prescribed by mainstream doctors.

There has long been support in the U.S. Congress for alternative medicine.  This includes dietary supplements, which have been strongly supported by Orin Hatch among others.  However, you might be surprised to learn that this coalition is now a direct rival to Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All proposal, and not just philosophically speaking.  This rivalry is currently playing out in the presidential campaigns of Marianne Williamson and Tulsi Gabbard, who each have an interest in holistic medicine.  Williamson has a list of alternative medical services on her website, and A Course in Miracles is itself an alternative approach to health care.  Gabbard’s bipartisan initiative for marijuanna reform, while it is an important step toward criminal justice reform, includes alternative health care interests represented by Chanda Macias, MBA, PhD, CEO and owner of National Holistic Healing Center in DC.  Marijuanna is an important ingredient in alternative therapies.  In addition, one of the closest and oldest connections to Gabbard’s family, Chris Butler, offers alternative health services centered around yoga.   In 2002 Yoga was the 5th most commonly used CAM therapy.

A survey released in May 2004  by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine focused on who used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), what was used, and why it was used in the United States by adults age 18 years and over during 2002.

According to this survey, Yoga was the 5th most commonly used CAM therapy (2.8%) in the United States during 2002.

It may be somewhat surprising to learn that holistic practitioners oppose Medicare for All.  The explanation for this begins with the fact that insurance policies don’t typically pay for alternative therapies.  Patients pay for them out-of-pocket, and that suits practitioners just fine.  If their treatments were covered by insurance they would have to abide by certain guidelines, and they prefer to treat their patients according to their own criteria.  Furthermore, if taxes were increased to pay for medical care, in other words, if people knew their health care was already paid for, and if that care was freely available, it would seriously effect the bottom line of alternative practitioners.   So alternative medical providers have a stake the status quo, like insurance companies.   Where does that leave us as far as a political strategy is concerned?

You might be thinking that if alternative medicine is cheaper, changing the way practitioners practice might be a solution.  After all, integrative medicine, which combines traditional treatments with alternative medicine, is a growing industry and several candidates have stressed the importance of preventative medicine.  But unfortunately, chronic disease isn’t going to disappear and there is no scientific evidence that alternative therapies can address these illnesses as well as traditional medicine.

On the other hand, there seems to be general agreement that Western medicine needs to change its focus.  Its medical infrastructure was designed to combat infectious diseases, and it works well for that purpose.  However its success with infectious agents has brought complex chronic diseases into focus, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.  Chronic diseases now account for three fourths of our health care spending.

In other words, preventive measures are important, but there is also the problem of whether patients are able and willing to follow those preventive measure.   At some point, the effects of low-wage jobs, unaffordable housing, and the lack of clean water and healthy food will come into the picture.  In addition, alternative and integrative medicine are not free.

There are improvements to the current system that must be made, but they will take time.  In the meantime, Medicare for All is desparately needed.  And it’s favored by the majority of the population.  In this light, resistance from practitioners of holistic medicine seems rather self-centered.  And considering the other forces arrayed against single-payer insurance, resistance from alternative interests is the last thing this country needs.

Many doctors are supportive of Medicare For All, but the AMA is organizing against it.

The AMA is currently allied with other industry groups in the fight against Medicare for All as a part of a group called “Partnership for America’s Health Care Future,” which is spending millions of dollars and is backed by the American Hospital Association, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans, which includes Cigna, Anthem, Centene and other health insurance giants.