The Health Care Pie: It's Time for Us to Get a Bigger Slice
By Marilyn Allen, Editor-at-Large
As a teacher, one of my favorite moments occurs whenever a student returns and tells of his or her accomplishments and successes. Hearing that a former student is doing well makes us feel as if we've done a good job and, in some small way, lets us claim some credit for these successes and achievements.
This was the case several weeks ago, when I attended the opening of the Center of Health and Healing at St. Vincent's Medical Center.
It reminded me of the first time I met Dr. David Boyd some years back. Summer was in colorful bloom, and David had just passed his acupuncture board exam for California and was getting ready to open the doors of his own Oriental medicine practice. We continued to talk over the years, and when we met again, he had become the academic dean of an Oriental medicine school. During this same time, several other students were finishing their courses of study and getting ready to enter the profession. As fate would have it - I like to call it synchronicity - all of these doctors met and started completing their internships in a special outpatient facility at St. Vincent's.
The administration of St. Vincent's possessed vision and wanted Oriental medicine to be part of the future plans of their hospital. Dr. Boyd worked long hours, crossing every "T" and dotting every "I" to meet the Joint Commission on Accreditation for Healthcare Organizations' (JCAHO) requirements for hospitals. He also oversaw of the writing of a grant to provide monies for the project. It has been a long and arduous process to design and create this impeccable facility. The open house was the icing on the cake, so to speak. The facility is open and receiving patients, referrals are coming in from doctors throughout the hospital, and even the doctors themselves are coming in and receiving treatments.
The Center for Health and Healing is fully staffed, beautifully decorated, and excellently equipped to provide exactly what the name implies. After a blessing ceremony for the center, and enjoying the party that followed, I was overcome by the feeling the building of this center was the right thing, and that this is the way it should be: Oriental medicine providers working side-by-side with their Western counterparts to create a more complete medical world for the citizens of the United States. I feel that if the population felt better in general and disease did not have such a hold over us, we would be able to create a better world and work toward global peace and harmony.
This is an excellent example of how Oriental medicine is starting to be positioned, and reflects the changes that are occurring in the medical field throughout the United States. Facilities like this, and the tenacity of leaders in the profession, are pushing the envelope for others who are in the profession now, and those who will follow later.
The envelope is also being pushed legislatively. In addition to Assembly Bill 1943, which was discussed in the April issue of this publication, three other bills have been introduced that will affect our profession in California and elsewhere. The first of these bills, Assembly Bill 2314, would establish a certification program for the ingredients in herbal products. Several years ago, the people of the California approved a clean water issue. This has developed far-reaching effects into the herbal medicine field. Herbal companies are meeting and working on solving many of the problems addressed. If the legislature votes this bill into law, herbal companies that sell products in California will be subject to a certification process that establishes the safety of herbs and the absence of heavy metals in individual items, and eventually into the products formulated from these individual herbs. This bill is sparking some controversy, but not as much as other bills.
Senator John Burton, representing the San Francisco area, has introduced Senate Bill 1705, which would give acupuncturists the right to conduct disability evaluations for injured workers under the Workers' Compensation program. This bill has been introduced in various forms before, but the circumstances are slightly different this year, as the parties that previously opposed the bill now appear to be in support of it.
The last bill that has been introduced (Senate Bill 573), also authored by Senator Burton, would require all insurance companies that offer health insurance coverage in California to reimburse for acupuncture services. This bill would expand the availability of patients to see an acupuncturist, who would be reimbursed by their insurance company. This is an important issue, and would provide the opportunity for millions of new patients to consult with, and utilize the services of, Oriental medicine providers.
There are several other states that actively introduce and pass legislation involving acupuncture and Oriental medicine on a regular basis. As we speak, legislators in Florida, Wisconsin and Colorado are deliberating over different laws that would affect the practice of acupuncture in their respective states, in addition to the situation here in California. I see this as a sign that the world of medicine is changing. Legislators, as well as the general public, are responding to the rapidly growing world of Oriental medicine.
If you are a provider and are not involved in the politics of our profession, or if you have never given the political arena a second glance, I suggest that now is the time to find out who your local representatives and state legislators are. How do you find out who they are? You can accomplish this in several ways, the easiest of which is via the Internet. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have their own website (www.senate.gov and www.house.gov, respectively). Both sites contain listings of every member of Congress, and include tools that help you locate your own legislators by entering your zip code. If you don't have Internet access, most telephone books will contain the names of your state's representatives and senators according to local district numbers, along with contact information.
2002 is an election year. While the presidential primaries and elections are still a couple of years away, there are hundreds of local and state races taking place across the country. Now is the time for you to become knowledgeable and participate in the process of government and getting your candidates elected. You can write a letter; stuff envelopes in a candidate's office; campaign for a particular issue; make phone calls and walk precincts - but most important, you can vote on Election Day. The 2002 presidential elections notwithstanding, your vote can and often does make a difference.
As a health care provider, you expect your patients to take charge of their own health. Now is the time for us to get involved and improve the health of our profession. If you want to be at the table when the pie is cut up, you have to participate in the baking. If you don't, all you'll end up with are the crumbs left by the others. Let's make sure that this year, we are the ones enjoying a bigger slice of the health care pie.
Click here for more information about Marilyn Allen, Editor-at-Large.