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The Healthcare Insurance Debate: The Elephant in the Room

It is agonizing to observe the national debate on healthcare insurance reform and realize there is an elephant in the debate room that nobody wants to discuss – self-care and preventive medicine.

Oh, I’m not talking about the preventive medicine charade that conventional medicine puts on, running to the doctor for more screening tests that only run up medical bills. PSA tests for prostate cancer, mammograms for breast cancer, and colonoscopies for colon cancer, have only led to more needless care.


I’m talking about self-care and avoidance of a trip to the doctor’s office altogether. I’m talking about home remedies that would cut the nation’s healthcare bills by trillions of dollars.

Many Americans don’t recognize the many impractical or contradictory positions they take about health insurance reform. For example, Americans have appropriately revolted against the idea of government rationing medical care, but there is an estimated $700 billion of unnecessary care delivered annually (Congressional Budget Office).


To bring healthcare budgets under control the volume of care must somehow be drastically reduced. Americans don’t want government interference in their doctor/patient relationship, but are Americans naïvely arguing for the right to get conned into more needless care?

Running to the doctor

With a $60 trillion shortfall for Medicare, the day may come when health insurance cards can no longer be relied upon. The inevitable collapse of the dysfunctional and unaffordable healthcare system would have one beneficial outcome – the public would be forced to think of treating many chronic conditions at home. Yet the American mindset is not self-care.

Running to the doctor’s office at the first sign of an ache or pain is not a habit Americans are going to break easily. On average, Americans make over 4 visits a year to doctors’ offices, emergency rooms and outpatient centers. In a period 1996 to 2006, when the population size rose by 11%, visits to see a doctor rose by 26%. It is no surprise why healthcare costs are rising beyond affordability.

Surveys shows Americans want more care and more access to expensive new medical technology, even when its use yields marginal health or cost benefits. Many Americans feel cheated by insurance plans when treatment is denied. Cancer drugs that cost $20,000 for 3 or 4 more months of life serve as an example. For over a decade bone marrow transplants were posed as last-resort treatment for breast cancer without any evidence of effectiveness. When patients were denied treatment by their insurance companies, family members often ran to the local newspaper which published a front-page story how a dying woman was denied care by her insurance company.

Problematic pain relievers

While pain-killing drugs are among the most commonly prescribed, there are no really safe FDA-approved over-the-counter pain-killing remedies. Aspirin not only can induce irreversible asthma, erode the esophagus and cause brain hemorrhage, but it can also induce bleeding stomach ulcers that result in the death of thousands every year. Ibuprofen has a similar safety profile. Everyone has heard of the mortal side effects from Vioxx and Bextra, the anti-inflammatory drugs that were falsely portrayed as being milder on the digestive tract. A whistle-blower had to alert Americans that this class of drugs led to the early demise of thousands of Americans.

Americans want affordable drugs, but what about no drugs at all? On average, there are 11.5 drug prescriptions per capita in the U.S. annually. America is overmedicated. Dr. John Abramson of Harvard has said this eloquently in his book Overdosed America.

But many senior Americans take no drugs at all. How do they do it? Many have found dietary supplements to be effective alternatives to drugs.

More American are opting for alternative medicines, yet sales of dietary supplements amount to only $14.8 billion a year ($49 per year per capita, or just $4.08 per month) compared to $291 billion for prescription drugs ($969 per capita per year). Americans spend more on pet food than they do vitamin pills.

In 2006, 7 in 10 medical visits to these three settings had at least one medication provided, prescribed, or continued, for a total of 2.6 billion drugs overall. Most prescriptions were for pain killers. (Source: Center for Health Statistics)

The pharmaceutical industry carefully crafted drug prescription plans so dietary supplements cost more than prescription drugs in out-of-pocket costs. Medicare enrollees opt for the more problematic drugs because they are cheaper. They are sometimes opting to take drugs and paying for it with their lives.

The biological action of most prescription drugs can be duplicated with dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, amino acid, herbals) at far less cost, morbidity and mortality (see chart). But prescription drug refills are what bring patients back to the doctor’s office and drug scripts reward doctors with an extra consult fee. Patients remain oblivious to the fact that many drugs create dependency (see here).

In fact, many prescription drugs create nutritional deficiencies. The medicated will never get well taking drugs that induce nutrient shortages.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another commonly used pain reliever that is a liver toxin. Chronic use of acetaminophen is the leading cause of liver failure and liver transplants and results in a few hundred deaths every year. The FDA thinks it is OK to sell this drug as long as it carries a black box warning. The FDA dismissed a petition to add a sulfur compound (NAC – N-acetyl cysteine) to all acetaminophen tablets as it is the antidote to its liver toxicity.

It is amazing how Americans assume FDA-approved drugs are safe. Many list death as a potential side effect. Yet Americans keep taking them. Is death an acceptable side effect? Apparently it is to the FDA.

Doctors could have put a stop to all this needless death, but they were seduced by free pens, scratch pads, lunches and paid lectures. So don’t run back to your doctor and ask if any of the home remedies suggested herein are safe and effective.

Too bad the tart cherry growers in Michigan didn’t send pens and scratch pads to American doctors. The US Department of Agriculture conducted some tests on tart cherry extract and found it produced pain relief similar to that of ibuprofen without the gastric side effects. The FDA allows a drug like acetaminophen to stay on store shelves even though it kills hundreds of Americans annually, while it muffles the tart cherry growers, who aren’t allowed to say their product is a safe and effective pain reliever. Tart cherry growers had to dump 10 million pounds of their crop this year due to lack of demand. Read the plight of tart cherry growers here.

Public keeps coming back for more

No one knows how many people die from side effects caused by prescription drugs. A study conducted a decade ago, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed over 100,000 Americans succumb to properly-prescribed drugs, dispensed by a nurse in hospitals. A major drug company was just fined $2.3 billion for promotion of off-label use of an anti-inflammatory drug. Yet the public seems to have no lack of confidence in that company’s other drugs, including the top-selling statin anti-cholesterol drug that only prevents 1 heart attack per 70 users over a period of 5 years.

Confronted with information that vitamin C and D serve as natural statins, statin drug users will likely call their doctor to ask if that idea would be OK. But not a doubt about the safety or effectiveness of the statin drug they take. After all, their doctor prescribed the drug and the FDA approved the drug. Dr. John Abramson of Harvard Medical School says statin drugs have never been shown to reduce mortality from coronary artery disease. However, they do lower your cholesterol numbers, giving patients a false sense of comfort.

Real healthcare reform

Are advocates for change in healthcare funding really interested in creating affordable cost-effective care? I wrote a report for this website showing how vitamin D supplementation could save $4.4 trillion of healthcare costs over a 10-year period, enough to save every American household of three over $3900 a year in health insurance premiums. ( ) (That’s enough to pay off the average family credit card bill in 2 years!)

I emailed a copy of that report to every important advocate for healthcare reform in the current administration in Washington as well as members of Congress. I didn’t receive one reply. All that need happen is the New York Times plaster a front-page headline saying vitamin D supplementation would save trillions of dollars and that would drive a stake deep into the pretend health reformers. Maybe soon the public will see universal healthcare as a grab for insurance money by the healthcare industry. What America needs are ways to reduce demand for healthcare.

I ask James Privitera MD, Covina, California physician, what natural medicines he typically recommends to patients for the most common symptoms that cause Americans to seek professional care that in many instances could be addressed by home remedies.

Dr. Privitera’s Program to Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack:

Kyolic EPA: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid, a fatty acid) with garlic and fish oil; 280 mg. 5X daily Jarrow Borage Oil, containing 1000 mg of pure borage seed oil and 10 IU of vitamin E; 250 mg, once daily Pure: magnesium and potassium and 33 mg elemental magnesium Thyroid Chew: porcine thyroid glandular extract; ¼ g daily Natur Practic Super Enzymes: containing pancrelipase, pancreatin, pepsin, betaine HCL, papain, amylase, oxbile extract, and others; 2 after each meal Vitamin E: 1000 IU daily L-carnitine;250 mg, 2 before each meal Raw Heart: glandular extract from cattle heart, plus added magnesium, manganese, and potassium; 3X daily Vitamin C: 5000 mg daily, divided into 2 doses Cardiovascular Research: liver glandular extract, containing 100 mcg vitamin B12 and 550 mg liquid liver fractions; 2X daily Selenium: 200 mcg, once daily Maxiblast: multivitamin and antioxidant; 2 after each meal.

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