WHAT Healthcare Reform?

Let’s get one thing straight. No one is talking about healthcare reform. There has been a smattering of talk about medical care reform – something about digitizing medical records and putting these in a database so that doctors anywhere can have access to a patient’s medical history. Hardly anyone disagrees that these modernizing measures would help cut costs and improve the quality of medical service.

But that’s not really what’s being argued about. What the over-lobbied members of Congress, teabaggers and high-rent experts are all in a lather about is not even vaguely related to anyone’s health. It’s all about the right of insurance companies to act as middlemen between sick or injured people and the medical profession. Oddly, the men and women who purportedly have been elected to represent “we the people” are scurrying around making their own deals with interested parties, such as insurance and pharmaceutical corporations. The word “care” seems cynically out of place in this burlesque powerplay.

Fortunately for we the people, healthcare is not in the hands of politicians. You and I have complete control over the care of our health. Not the ultimate state of our health, mind you–there are factors that not even the holy medical profession can alter–but what we do practically to improve our chances of enjoying good health. We can get advice from doctors, nutritionists, so-called health experts, physical trainers and anyone else we deem worthy of consultation. However, the way we treat our body-mind-soul complex is entirely up to us–which brings us to the subject of the debate Americans are very carefully not having.

According to the latest statistics, at least two out of three Americans are overweight. One in three Americans are downright obese (as in horrifically, make-you-try-not-to-stare, bulging-beyond-belief, how-did-they-manage-to-get-so fat). An alarming number of these are children. An estimated total of 23.6 million (8% of all) American children and adults have diabetes; 1.6 million are new cases since 2007. There were an estimated 1.4 million cancer cases in 2008. Nearly one in four Americans has one or more forms of cardiovascular disease.

Most if not all of these people are receiving some form of medical treatment, meaning that they are placing responsibility for their healthcare on someone other than themselves. A shockingly small minority of these people are participating in their own healthcare by such obvious means as altering their habits involving diet and exercise.

Here’s an idea for reform: Let the politicians argue about how medical intervention will be paid for, and let each one of us become our primary healthcare provider. If the latter could be taken up seriously, the need for medical intervention would drop dramatically, and very likely the debate would not even make headlines.

That all sounds simple, until you factor in the forces arrayed against us–the industries that profit from our poor choices. Forget the greedy insurance companies, the pharmaceutical corporations, and the ethically-questionable for-profit hospitals and clinics for a minute. There are far more sinister and uncaring institutions out there looking to make a buck from our suffering. Their products line the shelves of every supermarket and–yes–even so-called “health food” stores. Their merchandise is peddled at every fast food outlet. This is the frontline of true healthcare reform, and effecting a change is going to take a serious commitment from everyone who truly wants to enjoy a long, healthy life.

Sad to say, we’ve been hoodwinked by an industry that pretends to nourish us, but instead is feeding us degraded food-like products that are doing us harm. Beginning with factory farming of both plants and animals, what travels through the mill of refining, processing, packaging and marketing to find its way into our digestive tract is at best a travesty of healthful provender. Food? Well, technically. Nourishment? Not so much. Carcinogens, pathogens and other disease-causing agents? Aplenty. We have bargained away our health–and the health of our children–for the sake of economy and convenience.

This is where healthcare reform needs to begin–at the bottom of the food chain, before it has been stepped on by every food-dealer in the business. We do need to exercise more–absolutely–but virtually any kind of exercise will do, if done enough. What we eat is much more challenging, because it involves both selecting good produce and electing to prepare it ourselves. It entails reading more and learning about where our food comes from, what might be in it, and what our choices are. It takes determination to change the way we eat, what we eat, and how much.

If it seems ridiculous that we should have to put so much thought and energy into something as natural as what we eat, then perhaps we should be outraged that the food we take for granted has been systematically stripped of nutrients, over-processed, jammed with unnatural additives–in a word–denatured. It is no longer something our bodies can easily recognize as food, and that’s why we now must to go back to hunting and gathering just to find the real thing amid all the fantasyland Frankenfood.

I know I’m opening a #10 can of worms most people would rather ignore, but with all the people these days yelling about wanting their country back, I say start with the countryside–specifically the soil, where our strength and independence is–or is not–grown. We have an epic struggle to undertake here, and it’s going to take a filibuster-proof majority of us to prevail. This is genuine grassroots reform, and the future of “we the people” literally depends on it.

We could organize, demand an end to the government corn subsidies that enable the cheap production of low-grade, nutrient-deficient, third class convenience food. We could demand an end to factory farming and insist on ethical treatment of animals, whether we eat them or not. We could demand legislation to ban food additives, genetically modified seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. We might even manage to get on the news and strike a blow for freedom from the fake food industry.

But there’s another way, a quieter, infinitely more pleasurable way to initiate a sweeping change in the quality of our healthcare. All we have to do is stop buying heavily processed food, choose organic produce as locally grown as possible, learn to cook and take the time to eat at home. At a table, with family and friends. With the TV off. Slowly, gratefully, enjoying every bite. Like human beings, who will die one day, but who have a choice in how we live.

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Written by Alan Roettinger

Explore Wellness in 2021