Natural Foods Merchandiser

Weil offers prescription for health care reform

Last week, Dr. Andrew Weil testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Labor, Education and Pensions, and left feeling somewhat heartened.

“My main message to the committee was that without a transformation of medicine, any kind of health care reform is going to fail,” Weil told a standing-room-only crowd Friday afternoon. “But for the first time in my life I see the possibility of [that reform] happening.”

However, a new administration that is keen on health care reform isn’t enough, said Weil, author of seven books and director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. Expo West attendees, their customers and other Americans sick of the current health care system have to speak up and contact their congresspeople, he said. “When the debate on health care begins, you really want to make your voice heard. Unless there is really coherent political action, the vested interests will stay in power. You should be under no illusion about the obstacles to reform.”

Weil said those vested interests include pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers of medical devices, who are exhibiting the same greed as the companies that contributed to the current financial crisis. “The present health care system is generating rivers of money that flow into very few pockets. The health care crisis has the potential to sink the whole economy,” he said. “Whether efforts of reform can counteract that, I don’t know.”

Obstacles include medical professionals who don’t have enough education to act as “effective social and political lobbying forces,” he said. For instance, “Last year was the first time that anybody from the health care community even tried to weigh in on the Farm Bill debate. Next time, we’ll be in a much better position to do that.”

Doctors also focus on prevention rather than intervention, and many interventions are high tech and expensive, including pharmaceutical drugs, Weil said. Noting that the word medicine has become synonymous with drugs, he asked: “How did this mindset take hold in our society, that the only legitimate way to treat disease is by giving drugs?”

Weil then delivered what Expo West attendees came to hear: how diet, exercise and supplements are effective, inexpensive ways to fix both individual and societal health. He outlined two of his favorite nonwestern healing methods: laughter yoga and the Pranayama breathing technique, and walked the audience through a breathing session.

He concluded with some advice and predictions, including:

• Because people are much more careful about how they spend their money these days, it’s “very much in your interest to make prices of good, healthy things reasonable so that more people can afford them.”
• The dietary supplements industry is going to come under increased scrutiny in the next few years because the FDA will be shaken up and Congress wants more oversight. “This industry needs to be cleaned up” of bad supplements and unhealthy energy drinks, Weil said.

Vicky Uhland
Contributing writer
Natural Foods Merchandiser

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