Healthcare Costs Are Increasing Rapidly
by Brendan Kelly, acupuncturist and herbalist at Jade Mountain Wellness, Burlington, VT
Around the country, there’s lots of talk about the cost of healthcare. Here in Vermont, where I live and practice Chinese medicine, the state is in the process of revamping the medical system partially for economic reasons. According to the Green Mountain Care Board, which was appointment by Governor Shumlin to oversee these changes, if the current increases in health care costs continue, it’s projected to bankrupt the state in 20 years. It’s not a question if the system will change, but rather a question of how and when.
While the finances of health care vary from state-to-state, the trend is very clear—costs are increasing rapidly. While there’s lots of discussion about what this means for who receives health care and who pays for it, what’s lacking is a discussion of the underlying causes. Historically, Chinese medicine has emphasized the importance in the treatment room of understanding symptoms and where they’re coming from. Treating symptoms alone without understanding their deeper causes is analogues to having your tomato plant wilting from a lack of moisture and not watering the roots. Even with the best of intentions, if the plant is dry and doesn’t get watered, pruning the dying leaves will have little lasting benefit.
Similarly, it’s important to discuss the underlying reasons why our health care continues to become more and more expensive. A fundamental cause is that our health care system is none of these—it’s not a system and it doesn’t care for health. We have often confusing and sometimes contradictory reimbursement guidelines which overwhelming pays for the suppression of symptoms. Unfortunately modern western medicine, and the government agencies and insurance companies that pay for it, do not have a well-developed understanding of health. As a result, they emphasize trying to make symptoms go away. But as with our tomato plants, what happens on the surface—physical, mental and emotional symptoms—is a reflection of what’s happening below the surface .
With our health, symptoms often appear externally because something is out of balance internally. From several thousand years of clinical practice, Chinese medicine has developed deep-reaching diagnostic and treatment methods to address both the branch—the symptoms—as well as the deeper root causes. In addition to its very significant health benefits, Chinese medicine is also an extremely cost effective form of care.
In our clinic we routinely see patients able to reduce or eliminate many medications as well as avoid a wide range of surgeries. A few weeks ago, a patient told me that she had cancelled the foot surgery scheduled before coming in for treatments. Interestingly, she was not coming in primarily for foot pain and I was not focusing treatments on the discomfort in her toes. The significant reduction in her pain and resulting cancelation of the surgery were an ancillary benefit to a treatment process that was promoting internal well-being. The cost saving from cancelling the surgery would likely have paid for several decades of regular Chinese medicine treatments.
A major part of the rapidly increasing costs of health care is that it’s expensive to wait until people are sick before they receive treatments. While preventing disease and the need for invasive treatments is preferable to focusing only on treating symptoms, there is even more benefit– medically and economically– to promoting health.
Here’s a citation about the significant savings from 18,000 patients in NY state that had access to acupuncture. The study confirms that the costs of acupuncture are comparatively very low and resulted in decreased spending on primary care, all outpatient services, pathology services, all surgery, and all pharmaceuticals, specifically GI and Pain medications