12.06.2019 Autumn

What’s the Point of Healthcare For All if We’re Doing it Wrong?

Ann Lewis
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The US healthcare system is failing us. That’s why it continually ranks at the top of voter concerns during election cycles. The American people are frustrated with insane insurance rates, skyrocketing prescription drug costs, and our failing health. The healthcare industry raked in $3.5 trillion last year (which is roughly $10,000 per American) and accounts for 17.9% of our total GDP. That’s insane. 

Or is it? It is, after all, an industry… and a profitable one at that. We have to expect its profitability is by design. But with over 100 million Americans suffering from chronic disease (30% of our population) and accounting for a whopping 90% of that $3.5 trillion, one has to wonder how so many people can be sick for so long? 

Here’s a theory: our healthcare system isn’t designed to help people get well — it’s intended to treat symptoms and make money.

The shocking statistic that 40% of Americans are obese shouldn’t be so surprising when we realize that our health systems are not actually structured to heal us. The medical industry makes money when we stay sick, so there’s no capital incentive to heal people. The pharmaceutical companies have made sure of that. 

Last year, pharmaceutical companies spent over $230 million in lobbying efforts in our nation’s capital. (They also spent $134 million to help elect candidates that would push their agendas in the last election cycle.) Many of the people making our laws are beholden to massive drug companies, which is why the costs in the US are so high. It’s one of the reasons why the wealthiest nation in the world ranks near the bottom of international health standards when reviewed with its peer nations.

Capitalism is quite literally killing us.

Our traditional primary care physicians have been trained to treat illnesses and their symptoms. Doctors attempt to tell people to lose weight, but they don’t always have the tools to assist with nutrition and exercise routines. They’re so inundated with paperwork and red tape from insurance companies and hospitals that they spend more resources dealing with how to get paid than they do with their clients. Physicians don’t have time or the proper training to see and solve the root cause of the symptoms… and so people stay sick. 

So what can we do differently? We need to start seriously looking at functional medicine. It’s an approach to wellness that seeks out the root cause of one’s ailments and works to fix health issues with lifestyle changes. 

A typical primary care physician may prescribe blood pressure medication for hypertension. A functional medicine doctor would first focus on how to change one’s lifestyle to bring down the heart rate.

As a society we’ve been trained that it is not necessary to make hard choices because there’s most likely a pill for that. Functional medicine is structured so that the doctor spends more time with the patient, fostering a relationship that traditional physicians just don’t have time to do. Patients are encouraged to make an appointment every quarter. When someone holds us accountable, (more than an annual checkup) we have a far better chance of achieving our goals. Lifestyle changes are challenging, but incredibly empowering when we stick to them.

Functional medicine has been dismissed for years. In fact, in the first paragraph of its Wikipedia page, the words “pseudoscience” and “quackery” can be found. But the traditional medical community is finally acknowledging its credibility. The Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic is making waves. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) posted its first article about functional medicine in October. It noted favorable results for patients who pursued functional medicine vs. those treated at a typical family health center. This report sent a shockwave around the medical community and legitimized functional medicine for the incredibly discerning community of JAMA. 

The article appears to be opening the floodgates for necessary changes within the industry and is driving many studies that show functional medicine is helping people get better while reducing costs. While it’s still in the early stages of implementation, there are practitioners all around the country offering a functional approach to medicine. Perhaps in time, we will see the necessary shift towards health in America. Functional medicine will be a component in that healing, and potentially a large one if it continues to gain momentum. 

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.

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