accu3Here in Asheville, North Carolina, a mecca of progressive living, we have an incredible wealth of traditional healers. Yet because of insurance constraints most of us cannot even afford to have what should be seen as “well-being care.“

Insurance will not cover anything that is out of the box. And that affects all of us. As we watch the saga of health care take center stage in Congress, I can’t help but wonder where is the grassroots outcry?

We can’t get national health care coverage because it has been cited as too expensive. Dying is not too expensive and cutting off a breast is always covered. But trying to find a way to stay out of the surgical unit in the first place is seen as not profitable?

What is wrong with this picture? What is wrong with our culture? Do we fear being well?

Let’s start with what I mean by “traditional healers.” I’m talking about health care practitioners who draw on understanding of medicine that goes back centuries and are still held in high regard in cultures other than our own. These include several modalities. For one, acupuncture, practiced by the Chinese. Acupuncturists provide acupuncture and oriental medicine to diagnose and treat illness, injury, pain, or other conditions by inserting needles through the skin at certain points on the body.

Homeopathy, another modality, was discovered in 1786 by the German doctor Samuel Hahnemann. Homeopathy was introduced to North America in 1826 and quickly gained enormous popularity in Canada and the United States. By 1844, homeopaths had organized the American Institute of Homeopathy, America’s first national medical society. It was not until three years later that the American Medical Association was formed. By the late nineteenth century, one out of every six physicians was a homeopath. The resurgence of interest in homeopathic medicine expresses a desire from the general public for alternative health care.

Whereas herbal healing is practiced in almost all other countries as the favored institution, alternative healing, also known as traditional healing, is considered by many people to be much more effective than main stream body healing techniques. With alternative healing techniques you are not required to take prescription drugs with harmful side effects. Alternative body healing therapies use diet, exercise, and natural herbs or vitamins to promote healing.

Yoga is another of the many alternative healing methods. Yoga focuses on using meditation and breathing techniques for full body healing. The breathing exercises often in this alternative healing method may aid in an increased immunity.

Reiki is an alternative healing process that involves a Reiki practitioner and channeling of energy for whole body healing. It is believed that the person performing the process does not even need to know the exact affliction since the energy will automatically treat any area that is suffering. This type of body healing can be done in person or even over a long distance. Teachers of Reiki state that anyone can channel this energy and pass it on to the receiver for body healing.

Naturopathic physicians (ND’s) are primary care practitioners trained as specialists in natural medicine and licensed by the State Board of Naturopathic Examiners. Currently, naturopaths are licensed to practice in 13 states. The Alliance for the State Licensing of Naturopathic physicians is promoting licensure in the remaining states. According to the board, naturopaths are educated in conventional medical sciences, but are not orthodox medical doctors (e.g., allopathic physicians, or MD’s.). A naturopathic physician has a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine degree from a four-year graduate-level naturopathic medical college with admission requirements comparable to those of conventional medical schools. In addition to the standard medical curriculum, naturopathic students must do extensive coursework and clinical study in natural therapeutics.

With all these and more modalities available, it raises the question again: Why is it that we are not even given choices? But rather allow regulation to determine our very own state of health?

What are considered complementary or alternative practices in one country may be considered conventional medical practices in another. These practices complement mainstream medicine by 1) contributing to a common whole, 2) satisfying a demand not met by conventional practices, and 3) diversifying the conceptual framework of medicine.  (E Manheimer, B Berman, Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field: Scope and topics, 2007)

In the United States, increasing numbers of medical colleges have started offering courses in alternative medicine. For example, in three separate research studies that surveyed 729 schools (125 medical schools offering an MD degree, 25 medical schools offering a Doctor of Osteopathic medicine degree, and 585 schools offering a nursing degree), 60% of the standard medical schools, 95% of osteopathic medical schools and 84.8% of the nursing schools teach some form of CAM. The University of Arizona College of Medicine offers a program in Integrative Medicine under the leadership of Dr. Andrew Weil which trains physicians in various branches of alternative medicine which “… neither rejects conventional medicine, nor embraces alternative practices uncritically.”

Accredited Naturopathic colleges and universities are also increasing in number and popularity in Canada and the USA. In Connecticut, the University of Connecticut Medical School sponsors exposure to Ayurveda (Ayurveda is a holistic system of healing which evolved among the Brahmin sages of ancient India some 3000-5000 years ago), in periodic seminars and courses, for example, on mental health by a Yale affiliated medical doctor and psychiatrist (Ninivaggi, Frank John (2008). Ayurveda: A Comprehensive Guide to Traditional Indian Medicine for the West. Praeger Press: ISBN 0313348375). (Wikipedia alternative medicine)

The  irony of more medical colleges providing courses in alternative medicine is that these practitioners can indeed practice, but cannot offer any medical insurance plan coverage. Because patients have to pay up front, these practices are unusable to most folks, and these healers may not even be able to cover their expenses. Who can walk into one of these practitioners and fork over $500 in cash for an hour session? (Not to mention the gall of such a fee!)

In our politicians-skewed view of how one should be covered, medical insurance only covers “western” medicine applications. Let’s not forget the glaring fact that most of us do not even have the option to be covered  for anything. Which begs to ask the question, are we so elitist in our national thinking that even the trauma of being ill only matters for the rich?

In my view, western medicine practice (ever wondered why doctors are said to be “practicing”?) only treats symptoms and pieces. Ever had your hand and elbow broken but been forced to see two different specialists — one for the hand, another for the elbow?

Integrative, traditional offerings attempt to make us wholly well. In alternative medicine, healing is seen as wholistic. The entire body is treated. Because somewhere along the line that old song, the hipbone is connected to the thigh bone, is indeed … true!

Why is alternative medicine so roundly rejected? It really comes down to the powerful lobbying of the American Medical Association. If the AMA cannot make a cent, other approaches are considered not necessary. And therefore,  insurance companies don’t see a need or rather, translated, a profit center, to make alternative medicine accessible.

The powerful AMA would be seen as so much more accessible if indeed it went back to the Hippocratic oath and decided wellness was much more preferable! It used to be in Chinese medicine that if you were not healed, you did not pay! Can you imagine our doctors not taking pay?

There is ample evidence that traditional or now named alternative health does and can heal people. I am a walking example, from hands-on-healing to complete change of diet to meditation! The White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy, a commission established in 2001 to study the credibility and benefits of the CAM industry, found that, because of the dramatic increase in the prevalence of chronic conditions, the past decade had witnessed acceleration both in consumer interest in and use of CAM practices and/or products. They also found that physicians, hospitals, and other conventional health care organizations were showing a growing interest in CAM. A comprehensive review of 25 surveys of physician practices and beliefs regarding five commonly used CAM practices – acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, herbal medicine, and massage – found that about half of the surveyed physicians believed in the efficacy of these five CAM practices. (qualityinfo.org/olmisj/ArticleReader).

Despite the views of the AMA, the reality is that we as a nation want more options.

If we cannot have the option of getting the kind of health care that could cause us to thrive, do we just have to sit back while experiencing death and dis-ease? Is this what we want for the future?

Why are we allowing these powerful lobbyists/politicians to tell us what choices we have? In the raging debate ongoing at this very moment in Congress, they are arguing about single payer vs. public option. Yet we have this program called Medicare that already exists, that could easily accommodate all those that are in the not have category. In fact there is a bill specific to this awaiting signing, yet the politicos are in limbo, only concerned about the bottom line. What a surprise.

Those folks, awaiting health care are not in limbo, they are fighting for their lives. What kind of arrogance would allow people that are so ill to not be served without incredible debt, or even worse, not being served at all in their times of great need?

I, for one, want the option to see alternative practitioners. At this point, since all the costs would have to be out of pocket,  I must choose between the health care I would like and not being able to eat or pay the rent or electricity bills.

Not a choice. Not an option … when do we finally take to the streets for the health of ALL of us?

I am indeed opting for not only health care for all, but for options in health care, as well. Options for everyone’s own choice of health care providers. Glaringly today, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are truly available only for those that are white and rich. In this country — divided as we are by the haves and the have nots, we keep forgetting that the weakest link took down Rome.

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Ariel Harris

Ariel Harris

Ariel Harris, believer in the positive and intentional language, artist, writer, empowerer/tutor for 'at-risk' kids, shares life-joy with her soul mate Jamal (of ‘round midnite' fame, WCQS), has a bevy of three grown socially conscious extraordinary children plus two wonderful loving wedding additions, two granddaughters, and is awaiting heralding the time of great comfort for all. Ariel is available for comfort sessions and can be reached at [email protected]