Holistic Medicine for the People?
Natural medicine has become the upper-middle-class rage. Dr. Chopra charges thousands of dollars for his seminars. We have a doctor here in Maine who is a famous holistic practitioner for women, but he won't take Medicaid patients. It costs US$1,000 to be taught transcendental meditation. How and when are we going to provide alternative medicine to the poor?
That's a very good question. You're quite correct that alternative medicine is mostly available to the affluent, and until insurance companies see the wisdom of paying fully for alternative treatments, I think it will be hard to change the situation.
Be aware, however, that doctors like myself always try to provide patients with information about managing common ailments on their own with therapies that are cost-effective and easily available. Many elements of natural medicine are not expensive. Breathing exercises, diet adjustment, and the use of herbs and supplements are all low-cost ways to better health. Even special treatments like acupuncture may cost less than mainstream medicine.
There are some insurance companies that are realizing they can save money by offering to pay for alternative care. And there are unions and groups of patients and health practitioners who are lobbying for better coverage. A 1993 Harvard Medical School report found that Americans were making almost as many visits to alternative caregivers as to physicians practicing Western medicine. Also, a study by the American Western Life Insurance Company compared conventional treatment to alternative care and demonstrated some striking cost savings.
American Western Life, in Foster City, California, maintains a special plan that covers alternative care by naturopaths and specialists including acupuncturists, hypnotherapists, reflexologists, and experts in herbal medicine. It has a 24-hour advice hot line for herbal remedies. Alternative Health Insurance Services Inc., a health maintenance organization in Thousand Oaks, California, also covers a range of approaches, from ayurvedic to traditional Chinese medicine. Blue Cross of Washington and Alaska is creating an alternative medicine benefit plan. In the state of Washington, health plans are required by law to provide access to licensed chiropractors, acupuncturists, and naturopaths. Look around your area and you may find insurance companies that are willing to include natural medicine in their plans.