Universal Health Insurance And The Role of Integrative Medicine

Armen Hareyan's picture

Though we support the "competitive public health insurance option" as a possible gateway to universal single-payer insurance, the current debate that has grown up around this discussion often misses much of the point. That’s because more advanced reform of the way medicine and health care are practiced is needed; without it, no form of health insurance will tame the beast of rising costs - and no approach to health insurance reform will be meaningful. The core problem, As we argue in our new book, A Return to Healing: Radical Health Care Reform and the Future of Medicine, is that America’s health care system fights the wrong war - it engages in after-the-fact warfare. We devote vastly more resources to treating ill health than to prevention - at least 25 times more. Essentially, America is not focused on the true causes of our health problems. And our dreadful lack of attention to prevention and health promotion is getting costly in the extreme.

The bottom line is this: our corporatized health-care system is not really health care - it’s “disease care.” And, if we are indeed fighting the wrong war with our disease-care system, if we are wantonly allowing our population to develop diseases before we act, do we really want to pool the health-care insurance premiums of our population so as to better finance this system while leaving its other assumptions unchallenged - especially if these assumptions drive up costs beyond reason and don’t deliver wellness, prevention, and healing? And by the same token, do we really want to “automate” disease care with billions of government dollars now being targeted for information technology, when the very foundations of the industry itself need reconfiguring first?

To prevent our health-care system from bankrupting the country, America’s health care needs reform that is both paradigmatic and institutional, not just a reform of its financing mechanisms or computer tweaks in the flow of medical information. Toward this end, we believe the nation needs radical health care reform based on what we call the integral-health medicine model - that is, the cutting edge of integrative medicine that arose from the earlier movement complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Aside from being informed by an integral or holistic worldview, this emergent health-care model is dominated by a philosophy of prevention and wellness, and is informed by an understanding of the role of consciousness in healing and the body’s innate self-healing capacity.


Integral-health medicine, if translated into an improved insurance and delivery system, permits maximal freedom to choose one’s therapeutic approach according to personal preferences and the sacred bond between patient and physician. It incorporates integrative or holistic approaches at every juncture, especially for reasons of cost-effectiveness. And it robustly funds truly objective, comparative, and broad-ranging scientific research - in all cases using public money. Taking health care seriously, according to this worldview, would require far more funding than now designated in President Obama’s budget for Comparative Effectiveness Research, including an expansion of CER’s scope, plus a reconfiguration of of NIH’s budget in the direction of the new healing modalities of CAM that now comprise an embarrassing one percent of its budget.

But because prevention, healthy lifestyle, and the new healing modalities are usually not covered by insurance under our disease-care system, the less affluent or less educated don’t get access; and these Americans are among that population that is driving up health care costs. These and many other measures for legislative change are listed at our website, www.AReturnToHealing.com, where you can find a short document entitled Recommendations for Activists and Legislators.

Adapted with permission from A Return to Healing: Radical Health Care Reform and the Future of Medicine (Origin Press, 2009) by Len Saputo MD, with Byron Belitsos.

Written by Len Saputo MD, with Byron Belitsos