The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Health Care Reform Hijacked: Senators Seek Coverage for Alternative “Medicine”

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 29, 2009

Sometimes I just want to bash my head into a wall… remember how recently the results of a massive federal study were published, showing conclusively that over the last decade $2.5 billion was spent studying so-called alternative medicine (i.e. quackery) with the punchline that NO cures were found?

You would think, given this huge mountain of evidence displaying the ineffectiveness of the alt-med sCAM woo, that some people in the government would reconsider funding such useless nonsense.  Think again… alt-med true believer Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa – champion of the now infamous NCCAM woo-factory – has decided to move in exactly the opposite direction, by introducing legislation which would require health insurance companies to cover sCAM woo…

Naturopathic doctors, herbal healers, mind-body specialists, and acupuncturists often have been scorned by the US medical establishment, but growing numbers of Americans are seeking such care, and now an influential group of US senators believes the time has come to embrace an array of alternative therapies.

Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who is a longtime supporter of nontraditional medicine, is at the forefront of the effort to win insurance coverage for such providers as part of national healthcare legislation.

“It’s time to end the discrimination against alternative healthcare practices,’’ Harkin said at a congressional hearing.

Wow… here we go folks.  This is what I like to call the “teach all views” version of medicine – just as creationists say we should “teach all views” of biological origins (even the non-scientific & religiously based ones such as Biblical literalism), the New Age alt-med crowd has pushed a similar pseudoscientific argument.  And, sadly, they seem to have an influential political voice in Sen. Harkin right now.

If this amendment is successful, it will only serve to elevate the status of non-scientific modalities in the medical fields.  Somebody needs to tell these Senators that the reason why modern medicine has been so successful over the course of the 20th century is precisely because it has been based on the scientific method.  By watering down the authority of science-based medicine in this manner, Congress goes even further down a dangerous road of encouraging people to treat their (potentially serious) illnesses & conditions with the equivalent of voodoo.  Not only that, but now we’re also going to flush even more billions of federal money down this rat hole?

Not if I have anything to say about it.  It ends up that people are already mobilizing to encourage Sen. Harkin and his colleagues to strip this amendment out of any health care reform bill.  Contact your Senators and encourage them to support science-based medicine and not to go along with Harkin’s amendment.

**Note: Dr. David Gorski has an excellent, and much more extensive, post about this very topic over at the Science-Based Medicine blog. I encourage you to give it a read.

6 Responses to “Health Care Reform Hijacked: Senators Seek Coverage for Alternative “Medicine””

  1. […] Health Care Reform Hijacked: Senators Seek Coverage for Alternative “Medicine” […]

  2. Bunker said

    Hmm… I read blogs on a similar topic, but i never visited your blog. I added it to favorites and i’ll be your constant reader.

  3. Brown said

    Thank you! You often write very interesting articles. You improved my mood.

  4. mickeysix said

    disclaimer: i know this is an old post, but it showed up in the first 10 results for a google search on “health care reform alternative medicine” and it’s full of misleading information.

    right, because the western medical model is perfectly sane in all cases and doesn’t ever cause long-term or lifetime drug addictions at all. because the FDA has never lets a drug pass into the mainstream that had seriously dangerous side effects.

    there’s more to medicine than just cold chemistry. furthermore, no reasonable alt-med advocate i know believes in the extreme new-age silliness of things like distance healing or energy fields.

    the post you linked “debunking” alt-med and non-med completely overlooks the fact that for many practitioners the long-term benefits to not having a factory-produced drug cocktail floating in your system outweighs the short-sighted science and marketing that says “this chemical fights that ailment.” and if many herbal treatments merely operate on the placebo effect — which i highly doubt based on my own experience — then alt-med trumps traditional med by this virtue alone, but from what i’ve seen the herb-takers seem happier and better off than the pill-poppers.

    when i get a cold (which has happened less frequently in my life since i’ve taken a “natural” approach) i take three things: very strong lemongrass tea, echinacea and homemade juices. i rarely stay sick for more than two days and almost never miss work because of common illnesses. i take feverfew for my chronic aura migraines and that alone has given me back three to four days of work a year.

    my grandmother turned to acupuncture when prescription drugs for pain stopped working and she couldn’t find help in traditional medicines. lo and behold, she felt better after just two sessions and says her pain is much more manageable now. here’s the kicker: she got her drugs at negligible cost, but she would rather *pay* for so-called quackery than get the cheap pills.

    in contrast, my stepmother was once taking 11 different medicines at once for over a decade. only four of them were specifically for actual physical maladies; the other seven were to offset the complications and side effects caused by the others. tell me which makes more sense.

    many of the stigmas surrounding alt-med stem from bad marketing more than anything else. manufacturers claim a remedy provides such and such (questionable) benefit because it produces such and such (unquestionable) reaction. ginkgo biloba’s supposed effect on memory is a prime example. but there are thousands of herbal treatments out there, many with proof of effectiveness dating back centuries in some cases, and a lot of them aren’t just capsules or tinctures you can waltz into a store and buy — they’re specially prepared by someone who knows what they’re doing.

    herbal medicine isn’t a panacea and it isn’t a replacement for traditional drugs in every case. no herb in the world can heal a broken arm or heart disease. the people that look to herbal supplements advertised on tv as cure-alls and magic bullets would look for those anywhere. that isn’t alternative medicine’s fault and it’s short-sighted to ignore and decry the vast breadth of alt-med knowledge with attitudes like this.

  5. Now is not a good time to doubt the existence of substitute medicine; now is the time to embrace it and even indulge if you must.

  6. bob said

    It is proven for over 3000 years that Yoga and meditation keeps one healthy. This is the time to include it in the preventive health care. Please read more about this so that everyone, not just rich people who can afford this treatment will benefit.

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