Make no mistake. Healthcare is a thriving industry in America. Are we getting a bang for our buck? Here is how our healthcare system ranks compared to other developed countries. Hint: disheartening considering how much money we spend.
Can We Do Better?
Politicians of all stripes believe they can improve our healthcare by changing payment mechanisms — from Medicare for all, to tweaking the existing insurance/pharmaceutical payment costs. I do not care a whit how we pay for healthcare care in America. Unless we change how we practice medicine, the cost will continue to escalate. I believe in a more holistic approach, where we use medication and surgery only after we have made the necessary life-style changes that promote health. In many cases, the need for medication, costly treatments, and/or surgery will have disappeared.
A perfect example is that commercial for an antacid. A spicy food punches a guy who fights back with an antacid. According to Sunil Pai M.D., in his book An Inflammation Nation, dozens of studies have shown long-term problems from using these acid-blockers. They block absorption of vital macronutrients and micronutrients, but also calcium as well. That calcium deficiency can triple the risk of hip fracture.  Personally, I would just skip the spicy food my body is yelling at me not to eat. My father used to call that “body wisdom.”
I doubt our approach to healthcare is working. Do we really need a flood of commercials every evening that end with the tag line, “Ask your doctor if ____is right for you?” Not only that, in his book How Not to Die, Dr. Michael Greger MD lists medical care as the 3rd leading cause of death in America.  (That does not include deaths from the opiod crisis.)
 An Inflammation Nation by Sunil Pai, M.D. RocDoc Publications, Albuquerque, NM p.313
 How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger MD, Pan Books, imprint of Pan MacMillan, London p.275
Revamping Physician Education
Only now are medical schools beginning to teach students nutrition basics. I believe physician education should prepare doctors to be guides in nutrition and effective life-style behaviors. Instead, current medical standards of care promote use of costly pharmaceuticals. Of course, there will always be a place for medications, treatments, and surgeries. Our innovative technology is one of the strengths of our healthcare system, but if we alter our approach to wellness, it will be Plan B. My guess is there would be far fewer prescriptions. Now I fear the healthcare industry, and not the practitioners, are running the show (into the ground).
You Have the Power to Make a Difference
Here is the saga of my one-woman skirmish with the pharmaceutical industry. And it is only a tiny pebble compared to the boulder of our healthcare crisis. If I struggled to change this one thing for my husband and me, imagine the other elements that need to be unsnarled to make effective changes in our healthcare system.
If you are over a certain age, you may have received calls from your pharmacy offering convenience, and possibly lower prices, if you accept three month prescription refills. In fact, on a recurring basis, I find a little addendum to the paper I sign when I pick up prescriptions to allow those three-month refills. I continually cross it off and write NO in huge letters.
Fat lot of good it does me. I admit the three-month refills do make sense. Doctors need to re-order medications less frequently, and that reduces the pharmacists’ workload. We are not running to the pharmacy every month for refills. It appears to be a win-win for everyone.
The pharmaceutical industry is the real winner on this healthcare conveyor belt. How often do physicians change medications or dosages to manage our illnesses? If you are like my husband, you have a medicine cabinet full of unused pills. Additionally, it is sad but true that we get closer to death as we age. A person may purchase a three-month supply on Tuesday and die the following week.
It occurred to me that, with three month refills, people purchase a whole lot of pills they soon may no longer need. When you think about it, odds are Big Pharma stands to sell millions of dollars worth of medications to corpses alone. What a moneymaker! And if I can figure that out, I’m sure Big Pharma has it down to a science.
A friend once told me (correctly) I have an “oppositional” nature. Here is what I went through to change things to oppose the status quo (mainly because this sales gimmick irritates the daylights out of me).
- On two separate phone calls to the pharmacy to refill a medication, the friendly machine asked if I wanted a certain other prescription filled. Since my husband was taking half as much now, I still had plenty pills. I told the machine “no” both times.
- A few days later, I received a phone call from the pharmacy to tell us the three month supply of that certain prescription was ready for pick up. (Evidently the machine does not take “no” for an answer.)
- Irritated, I brought the still filled vial into the pharmacy and spoke to the pharmacist. She was a lovely person and I assured her my concern was not personal, but rather directed at the store’s policy. I held up the vial and asked if it looked like I needed a refill. As she shook her head, I delivered by Big Pharma theory. She told me I was “preaching to the choir” and would make the appropriate changes in the computer. She gave me the number for their corporate offices and suggested I call them.
- The nice man at corporate said the three month refill option was a courtesy. I replied I doubted an industry that jacked up insulin and epinephrine prices to the degree people died for lack of access to the drugs, or flooded America with opiods, was that much into courtesy. (I admit I tried to egg him on to get a response, but he stayed on message.) With my permission, he checked my husband’s record on the computer, and they still had hubby listed for three-month refills —after everything my pharmacist did. Clearly, this three-month refill gig was not going gently into oblivion without a fight
I admit this is a tiny thing, but unless we consumers use what little control we have, the healthcare industry will bankrupt us before it kills us. I do not think it’s how we pay for healthcare that will make a difference, rather it is what we are paying for.
It should not be a pill for every ill, but a life-style skill to prevent the ill in the first place. In the end, I think that approach will make our healthcare affordable and effective for all.
What are your thoughts?
How would you lower healthcare costs if you were King or Queen?
How would you improve health outcomes?
It was on the news (two days ago) about the strong connection between antacids and stomach cancer. Another story (2013) praised antacids for helping to prevent throat cancer. I wish they’d make up their minds! I live with a lot of pain because I’m very hesitant about taking meds today. Some of them work against each other as well. Thanks for the heads-up on prescriptions; though my situation sometimes goes the other way, and they’re lax in refilling in a timely manner.
I love your fight with Big Pharma, Sue! As you may remember, my past thirty-plus years in nursing ( following twenty-plus in intensive care), have been in cardiac rehab. The field of medicine IS slowly advancing into proactive treatment, rather than reactive. There is even a realization among insurance companies that it is fiscally responsible and beneficial to pay for three months of an exercise/education program rather than a costly intervention. Mind you, this has taken YEARS to happen, but rehab is actually a bit more popular now! MDs like ya enough that they refer across hospital boundaries. Many patients attend, many we never see again. Years later we may see obituaries inferring death from some other diagnosis.
Let us hope this revolution maintains itself and Big Pharma retreats into research modalities that benefits- not fleeces- its customers!
Let us hope
Good article Sue. Really enjoyed it and it makes sense!!
Amen Sue for all you’ve said! I agree 100%!
Love “It should not be a pill for every ill but a LIFESTYLE SKILL to prevent the ill in the first place.” I strongly believe this.
Awesome approach to health care!
I wish your message could reach some people in power to make changes. Hope this message reaches many!
Thank you for all your comments. This is a conversation that really needs to continue if we want effective and reasonably priced health care.So glad you agree!