CAM Politics: If Your Single Issue is Integrative Health—Obama’s Reform is Bold

by John Weeks

I have never favored single-issue politics. Life is too complex to make thumbs-up or thumbs-down decisions about a politician based on a single vote taken on a single issue.

Similarly, complex legislative packages warrant balanced consideration, weighing all of their elements. This is what we charge our elected officials to do.

Obama’s health reform, now the law of the land, is one of those exceedingly complex pieces of legislation. On the table are access to treatment for millions of people and the economic distribution of billions in our $2.6 trillion system. The now Republican-controlled House of Representatives is trying to toss it out. The US Supreme Court will soon be juggling a half-dozen competing lower court decisions.

Yet as the debate rages, I find myself holding onto a few obscure sections of that massive law. The reason is simple. I have actively worked toward more appropriate integration of what has been called “complementary and alternative medicine” for nearly three decades. The Obama law includes some powerful elements of historic conclusion:

• US Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) required healthcare workforce forecasters to include chiropractic doctors, naturopathic doctors, acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioners, massage therapists, licensed midwives, and other integrative health practitioners in the nation’s planning.

• US Congresswoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) inserted concepts of “integrative health,” and “integrative practitioners” in a major National Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health Council.

• US Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) gave Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) their first formal federal inclusion as covered practitioners in birth centers. (This direction was particularly pleasing as CPMs assisted in both of my children’s home births.)

• A section of the law on medical homes specifically denotes that these multidisciplinary practices may include chiropractors and licensed complementary and alternative medicine practitioners.

• US Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) worked with Mikulski and others to ensure that state licensed integrative health practitioners were in the leadership of the real world research initiative called the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

• Last, but not least, Tom Harkin (D-IA) led an effort that inserted language saying that there will be no-discrimination between disciplines. If participating insurance plans cover services of a medical doctor’s evaluation and management, then, for example, that would also need to cover a naturopathic physician whose license allows him to perform that service.

For supporters of what is called “alternative medicine” and “integrative medicine” and “CAM” and “integrative health care”— the phrase I prefer—the Obama law is a huge breakthrough. The inclusion is significant and related to most aspects of medicine, from research to delivery, health promotion, planning, and payment. This is a sea change.

Of course, what becomes of the law is a function of the lobbying for who gets to be on what commissions and councils to interpret the law, and ultimately, in the regulations that govern the new law’s interpretations.

Supporters of integrative practice can make a difference. One way to get started is to sign up for the alerts at ihpc.info—the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium. (More on this organization will be shared in a future column.) I also send some alerts through my newsletter, below.

Your participation is important. In June of 2010, the House of Delegates of the American Medical Association (AMA) declared that it favors continued discrimination against other practitioners. The AMA will fight for repeal of that section.

So as the big ship of Obama’s health-care reform is blasted about by threatening winds, I find myself huddled in the hold, clutching these small seeds of potential change. Planting and nourishing these hopeful phrases represents opportunity for medicine that focuses on health.

I fear I am behaving a good deal like a single-issue voter.

John Weeks, the publisher-editor of The Integrator Blog News & Reports (www.theintegratorblog.com), brings 28 years of involvement in integrative practice politics and business to his writing. Questions? Write to johnweeks@theintegratorblog.com.