In Arizona, January 1, 2014 marks a historic moment in health care choice.
Obamacare, which takes effect then, includes a little noticed provision whose long-term impact is likely to be vast. Under this provision, insurers will not be allowed to exclude licensed health care professionals who want to participate in their plans. The intent is to give consumers greater choice among different types of health care providers. That means patients will soon have access to holistic health care professionals such as naturopathic physicians, chiropractors, and acupuncturists.
Holistic health care relies more on lifestyle changes and natural solutions and less on invasive procedures, surgery, and prescription drugs. The new law recognizes that 40% of Americans are taking greater control of their health by using holistic medicine. Within this 40% is a small but growing number who are seeking care from the “general practitioners of holistic medicine” known as naturopathic physicians.
On September 10, the US Senate unanimously approved a resolution that establishes October 7-13, 2013 as Naturopathic Medicine Week. Congress thereby recognized the ability of naturopathic physicians to “provide safe, effective, and affordable health care” and urged Americans to learn more about this form of medicine. So, the second week of October is a good time to visit a naturopathic doctor (ND) and size up whether her or his approach is potentially a fit for you.
The naturopathic approach emphasizes the body’s inherent self-healing ability – a clear divergence from conventional medicine, which tends to focus on managing sickness. As an ND myself, I emphasize the necessity of staying well by attending to such things as balanced nutrition, sufficient exercise, quality sleep, stress management, proper hydration, breathing patterns, and emotional health. These elements of preventive care are vital because more than 75 percent of health care costs in the US today stem from preventable chronic illnesses.
It’s stunning that nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese…tens of millions are afflicted by conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes…and 70% of us report suffering from stress (which itself can lead to such problems as heart disease and depression). Our fast-paced, high stress, “Big Gulp” lifestyle has brought about this plague of chronic illness and an intense focus on sickness management. The result is that, while our country spends far more per capita on health care than any other nation, we rank just 37th in average life expectancy.
Tracy Gaudet, MD, director of patient-centered care at the Veterans Health Administration, describes naturopathic medicine as “a huge answer for the country….at a pivotal transformational moment” in health care. In an era when prescribing drugs or recommending surgery is a reflex action for many doctors – and patients themselves see drugs or surgery as ‘the’ way to banish symptoms – an approach that highlights the causes of illness and equips people with an understanding of their body as a functional system is, indeed, transformational.
Naturopathic doctors have been around for decades. Dr. Gaudet calls us “pioneers…who have been practicing integrative medicine all along.” Today, 4,400 NDs hold a license, having graduated from accredited 4-year naturopathic medical schools. What I thrive on as an ND is working closely with my patients, guiding them toward a restoration of health. NDs in general use a range of non-invasive approaches such as physical medicine, oriental medicine, botanical medicine, mind-body medicine, lifestyle counseling, and nutrition counseling. My profession aims to be the kind that Gaudet envisions as the future of medicine – focused on the whole person and empowering him/her to take a more active role in maintaining good health.
The symptoms of chronic illness, and the costs, are spiraling all around us. It’s important to realize that disease-causing pathogens are no longer the only or main threat to health. We are: our lifestyles, our love of fast food, caffeine, sugar, fat and, in general, life in the over-stimulated lane. People are discovering, though, that natural medicine is a better way than prescription drugs and surgeries to get on a healthier path.
So, please join with me the week of October 7-13 to celebrate Naturopathic Medicine Week. It offers a glimpse of the evolution toward holistic care – and greater consumer choice – that kicks in January 1 through this key insurance provision in Obamacare.