Single-Payer Socialized Health Care: What Would It Mean for Innovative and Alternative Medicine?
In the midst of the myriad destructive elements that are plaguing modern society or quickly coming into play, the looming transformation of the medical system in the United States into a single-payer socialist nightmare is one of the most alarming developments facing us.
The inability of the Republican controlled Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare, and the increasing popularity of a single-payer system, suggest that socialized medicine cannot be kept at bay for much longer. Leaders of the Democratic Party, including prominent contenders for the party’s 2020 nomination for President, now support the concept of single-payer. The current debate in the media and political circles -- dominated by disagreements over costs, how many people might “lose coverage,” the issue of preexisting conditions, and cuts to Medicaid -- overlooks a key point: the fact that government-run socialized medicine at its core is evil. Once enacted, it will be one of the final nails in the coffin of Americans’ increasingly tenuous hold on individual liberty and freedom.
The threats to freedom of choice that single-payer represents will impact not only the availability and quality of life-saving drugs, surgery, end of life care, and other mainstays of the American health care system. It will also adversely impact the growing field of alternative medicine that -- largely under the radar of official attention -- has gained the interest and support of about one-half of the adult population.
It’s All About Control -- and Making Money
On March 21, 2009 Obamacare was rammed through an overwhelmingly Democrat-controlled Congress on a straight party line vote. Obamacare represented a major step forward in the long march toward socialized medicine -- helping as it did to establish widespread public acceptance of the concept of “health care as a right.”
H.R. 3590 The Affordable Care Act or Obamacare (2009-2010) Photo credit
The day after the Obamacare vote, the senior member of the House of Representatives, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), a strong supporter of government-run health care since he first got elected to the Congress in the mid-1950s, appeared as a guest on a local Detroit radio program. I learned about the Dingell interview courtesy of someone in Detroit who heard the broadcast and posted a comment about it at a blog that I stumbled upon. After some research, I was able to identify the Detroit talk show -- it was the Paul W. Smith program on radio station WJR -- and locate an audio file of the Dingell segment on WJR’s Web site before it scrolled offline.
Sure enough, as he gleefully celebrated the passage of Obamacare on Smith’s program, Dingell blurted out that the Democrats had finally learned how “to control the people:”
The harsh fact of the matter is when you're going to pass legislation that will cover 300 [million] American people in different ways it takes a long time to do the necessary administrative steps that have to be taken to put the legislation together to control the people.
When news of Dingell’s interview and his telling comment was published in American Thinker in an article by this author, and was picked up by the mainstream media including Fox News, Dingell’s office issued a statement claiming that the aging Congressman’s comments had been “taken out of context.” The unedited recording of the interview, however, speaks for itself.
That one comment by Dingell on March 22, 2009 exposed the truth in the situation: The purpose of government-run health care is to control the people.
This is no surprise to anyone who has studied the history of socialism and communism. Nationalized mandated health care has always been a goal of the collectivist, statist, communist model of governance.
Writing in 2007 in National Review Online, Mark Steyn put it succinctly:
Socialized health care is the single biggest factor in transforming the relationship of the individual to the state.
That transformation entails an army of bureaucrats, PR specialists, enforcers, lobbyists, and hundreds of thousands -- perhaps millions -- of individuals functioning at various levels of the medical Establishment -- which it might surprise many readers to learn is the biggest business in the United States, dwarfing annual spending on the military by a factor of more than five to one. According to government figures, in 2015 U.S. military spending was about $600 billion, while spending on all U.S. medical care that year reached $3.2 trillion. About 64% of the total health care bill was directly paid for by the government.
Not only is conventional medical care expensive, its costs have exploded during the past half century. According to an article in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2006, “Adjusted for inflation, annual medical spending per person [in the United States] has increased from approximately $700 in 1960 to more than $6,000 today , tripling as a share of the gross domestic product (GDP).” Between 2006 and 2015, medical spending per person increased even more, to $10,000 annually.
The shocking rise in the costs of medical care since the 1960s has been exacerbated if not largely caused by the government’s increasing involvement and meddling in the field.
As usual, the figures -- the bottom line -- tell us a lot. With $10,000 per person (2015 figures) in play, multiplied by a population of 330 million consumers, the market for medical care and the potential profits are unprecedented in the history of the world.
Alternative Medicine: More Popular than Conventional Medicine?
The purpose of this article is not to explore the obscene costs or other obnoxious elements inherent in the conventional medical system. Rather, it is to examine how this system -- as it is now transforming itself into a classic socialist model -- has affected and will continue to influence medical innovation and the availability of alternative medicine options. Since its inception, alternative medicine has relied on the American climate of freedom and choice -- a context that is rapidly receding in the face of socialism’s advance.
A frequently cited study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993, a quarter century ago now, was a turning point in establishing the prevalence, popularity, and utilization of alternative -- or “unconventional” -- medical practices in the United States. The lead author of the study was David M. Eisenberg, M.D., a physician and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
David M. Eisenberg, M.D. in his office at Harvard University
Unconventional or alternative medicine generally refers to things like nutritional medicine (including vitamin supplements), homeopathy, chiropratic care, herbal medicine, naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, alternative cancer therapies, prayer, and a number of other practices
Excerpts from the 1993 New England Journal of Medicine article, the full text of which is available here:
We found that unconventional medicine has an enormous presence in the U.S. health care system. An estimated one in three persons in the U.S. adult population used unconventional therapy in 1990. The estimated number of visits made in 1990 to providers of unconventional therapy was greater than the number of visits to all primary care medical doctors nationwide, and the amount spent out of pocket on unconventional therapy was comparable to the amount spent out of pocket by Americans for all hospitalizations.
The use of unconventional therapy was not confined to any narrow segment of U.S. society. The rates of use ranged from 23 to 53 percent in all sociodemographic groups we considered.
Extrapolation to the total U.S. household population suggests that in 1990 an estimated 61 million Americans used at least 1 of the 16 unconventional therapies we studied and approximately 22 million Americans saw providers of unconventional therapy for a principal medical condition.
The estimated number of ambulatory visits to providers of unconventional therapy in 1990 was 425 million (95 percent confidence interval, 302 million to 548 million). This number exceeds the estimated 388 million visits in 1990 to all primary care physicians (general and family practitioners, pediatricians, and specialists in internal medicine) combined
The surprisingly widespread acceptance and use of alternative or unconventional medical practices documented in the mainstream New England Journal of Medicine in 1993 occurred despite decades of denigration by the American Medical Establishment -- working hand in glove with the federal government and its agencies, including the FDA, FTC, DOJ, etc.
This condemnation of alternatives relied on a variety of tactics including surveillance, harassment, prosecutions, bans of alternative treatments, dirty tricks, and an ongoing collusion with the mainstream media to dismiss and blacklist unconventional medical options. The history of this censure is long, dark, and convoluted, but it is available to anyone who wishes to delve into it.
Since the 1993 study by Eisenberg et al, the popularity of alternative medicine has continued to grow -- a decade ago 4 in 10 American adults were using some form of complementary alternative medicine, according to a 2008 government study, the most recent one that could be found. This growth in popularity has been aided by a limited degree of Establishment cooperation as the name of the field was changed from alternative to complementary and then to integrative medicine. In 1992, the federal government climbed on the bandwagon with a new, Congressionally-mandated Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. The office’s name was later changed to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and then to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. The name changes are not insignificant: “Alternative” connotes a truly alternative treatment option that might be offered as a primary therapy, while “complementary” and “integrative” suggest that the alternative method is at best a complement, and therefore secondary, to the dominant conventional medical model that remains the gold standard in health care. Something that is “integrative” is ultimately less threatening -- less of a challenge -- than an outright alternative to the hegemony of orthodox medicine.
Leading practitioner of Alternative Medicine Linda L. Isaacs, M.D.
One way of looking at all of this is that a primary alternative therapy for cancer -- for example, a regimen involving a special diet, nutritional supplements, and detoxification, like the one practiced by Linda L. Isaacs, M.D. in New York City -- might treat the patient without using any of the standard conventional therapies for cancer like surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. In contrast, a complementary/integrative approach provides a gentle “alternative light” modality like herbs or massage to help the patient avoid unpleasant side effects and feel more comfortable while she undergoes surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. The integrative approach, while not without value, does not challenge the primacy of the conventional medical model.
Alternative medicine: Once again squarely in the cross-hairs
It needs to be kept in mind that alternative medicine -- whatever name it is going by -- has thrived in the context of the mixed climate of the for-profit private sector and government-endorsed, -supported, and -influenced medical care that has been in effect in the United States since the end of World War II. Over time, starting in the 1960s, the public at the grassroots level began to explore and then demand access to medical alternatives, and the private sector -- with minor and grudging government support -- responded. The underlying philosophy of freedom including the somewhat laissez-faire free market environment in this country made the ascent of alternative medical approaches possible.
But that is now changing. The first blow came in 2009 with the passage of Obamacare, which fully went into effect in 2013. Otherwise absurdly known as the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare added thousands of pages of new regulations to the practice of medicine, increased government spending on (and control of) medical care, discouraged smaller primary medical practices while encouraging consolidation and centralization, hired thousands of new IRS employees or agents to enforce Obamacare’s mandates on individual citizens, and required the implementation of onerous and Orwellian electronic medical records (EMRs) and something called evidence based medicine at every level of medical practice. Today, the hands of the individual physician are being tied tighter than ever as the government increasingly is coming between the physician and his patient.
Many if not most alternative therapies -- especially the ones that are still employed as primary treatments -- are not approved by the government, state medical licensing boards, Medicare and Medicaid bureaucrats, etc. Even under the heel of Obamacare, however, these interlocked players were unable to exert total control over the practice of medicine at the grassroots level, where true medical innovation and alternatives are thriving. But under the looming single payer socialized medicine scheme, this is all about to change.
Connie Yates and Chris Gard with their son Charlie
Addenda: As this article is being written, an emotionally wrenching medical case is playing out in the UK that has direct relevance to some of the issues being discussed here. Charlie Gard is an 11-month old baby who has mitochondrial depletion syndrome, a “rare genetic disorder that causes brain damage and prevents muscles from developing.” He is hospitalized in London in what National Health Service (NHS) physicians say is a terminal and hopeless condition. His case has gained worldwide attention with the Pope and President Donald Trump weighing in.
Charlie’s parents have been fighting the British medical and legal Establishments in an effort to regain custody of their son so he can be taken to the United States or another country where innovative treatments exist that, they say, might offer the possibility of Charlie’s survival and clinical improvement. The London hospital took the case to a court, which agreed with the government doctors and NHS bureaucrats that Charlie needs to have his life support removed so that he can die in hospital, the parents’ wishes be damned.
It remains to be seen if a new effort by the parents to appeal the court’s decision will prevail. In the meantime, the case illustrates several points. In a socialized, single-payer medical system like the one that has been in place in the UK since the NHS was mandated in 1948, the patient -- or in this case, his parents -- is not in control; the medical bureaucrats under the color of law have the final say over one’s life and death.
It is also noteworthy that innovative options that might help a patient like Charlie are emanating not from Britain -- where socialism and the NHS have hindered medical innovation and impaired successful treatment outcomes -- but from the United States, where the practice of medicine has yet to fall under the complete and suffocating yoke of socialism.
To be continued.
Peter Barry Chowka has reported on health care, with an emphasis on alternative medicine, since 1972. Between 1992-’94 he was an advisor to the National Institutes of Health. His new Web site is AltMedNews.net.