Why Our Health Matters: A Vision of Medicine That Can Transform Our Future (hardcover)
Publisher: Hudson Street Press)/$25.95 (272 pages)
Date of Publication: 2009
Reviewed by Alison Rose Levy
Dr. Andrew Weil’s new book, Why Our Health Matters, is a must read for anyone wondering why health care reform is in gridlock or what to do about it. In this book, Weil offers solid, original, clear-minded, and impeccably caring solutions for our health care conundrum.
“I am sure you or people you know have had disastrous interactions with our so-called health care system, resulting in physical, emotional, or financial harm,” Weil writes. “Most of us feel as if we are up against implacable forces and institutions that are beyond our influence.”
Apparently, even the President feels that way. In his campaign, he promised to get the money lenders out of the temple of health care, but so far–no good. He is being outplayed. The ongoing debacle over insurance reform unveils the unmediated power of health care infrastructures bent on self-perpetuation rather than public health. Corporate bottom lines dictate health care policy thanks to campaign finance laws that permit those with the deepest pockets to buy legislators.
“The capitalistic free market system often works well and fairly for both buyers and sellers,” Weil points out. “However when the products that an industry sells are meant to save lives and relieve suffering, free market forces are easily skewed… If you need a product or a service to help control cancer, the seller can demand an unfair price (operating) in a free market run amok.”
As a result, both profits and power have concentrated in the health care sector as the rest of the economy tanks.
Yet even with many other options in health care, options brilliantly detailed in “Why Our Health Matters”, many people still cling to high cost medicine even when it performs poorly for their specific health care needs.
Here’s Weil’s diagnosis: “The wealth concentrated around big pharma and the other corporate pillars of the medical industry has narrowed our country’s concept of what constitutes good medical treatment,” Weil writes.
In that one sentence Weil has pierced to the root of our health care dilemma.
It’s not just that the various arms of industrial medicine can skew policies originally meant to protect the public–and which many mistakenly believe still do. It’s also that over the decades, through media reporting, advertising, and extensive PR re-enforcing their particular brand of health care, industrial medicine has unduly influenced public understanding of health science and care– causing people to believe as gospel what they’ve been taught to believe.
In the recent health care reform debate, it’s become obvious how corporate marketing dollars misdirect public attention into meaningless debates over contrived issues. (Think Obama’s birth certificate, death panels, government option = communism etc.)
But what isn’t so widely acknowledged is how marketing agendas have shaped our understanding of health care. If you believe, for example, that no intervention is valid unless it has been studied in a randomly controlled double blind trial, you have been sold on a research method appropriate for testing toxic synthesized chemical developed by pharmaceutical companies–but perhaps un-necessary for less toxic substances, like foods and plants. This is just one example of the many ways that our attitudes about health have been imperceptibly shaped by corporate agendas.
As Weil notes, the concentration of corporate medical wealth has “made far too many Americans believe the myths that prop up our failing health-care system.”
Of course the biggest myth about American health care is that “because America has the most expensive health care in the world, it must have the best. The Reality: We rank #37 on a par with Serbia.”
These statistics reflect human realities that cause poor health, mortality, and suffering. As Weil points out, three-fourths of all Americans die from preventable diseases, diseases that have been on the rise for the last twenty-five years. Yet billions are spent on research and costly treatments that fail to prolong lives. “Survival with lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death, has improved by less than one month…” Weil writes.
Why Our Health Matters is an incisive analysis of what our system does well, what it does poorly, and how to fix it to improve outcomes and lower costs, and to make human need rather than corporate agendas primary.
To paraphrase Bill Moyers (who recently evoked the defining moment of the American Revolution), Americans must cross the Delaware and yank health care out of the hands of the mercenaries. Weil gives us a handbook for the health revolution.