Sep 032009


Health Insurance: Disempowering for Patients, Harmful for Herbalists & Healers

By Jess Hardin

Yes, I am among the millions of unassured Americans.  Unassured by industry claims, administration promises and congressional intentions when it comes to health legislation.  No, I am not one of the privileged, able to slap down multiple plastic cards and receive the kind of A-1 care reserved for the well insured, looking down my nose at the less fortunate.  While our work and purpose includes healing others, my family and can’t get medical insurance even if we want it.  We don’t qualify for existing state and federal health insurance because our land is considered an asset, and yet not anywhere near enough money comes in to pay the premiums on even the lousiest policy.  It is a stretch for us to make small payments to a private subsidized clinic that serves our backwoods community, a wonderful doctor and staff who nonetheless lack the equipment to conduct many tests, and who have to refer their patients to the big-city hospital whenever the condition is serious or requiring surgery.  I have heard people talk about “catastrophic illness” involving medical bills that lead to bankruptcy and ruin, but in my case there will be no such ruinous bills… I simply will not be getting the treatment when needed.

As a technically impoverished healing school, you might think we would be among the first to champion a new system of universal care.  Not!  The larger and more standardized a system is, the less personal, regional, flexible and adaptable it becomes.  And as poorly managed as private enterprises of any kind can be, it is the official government run systems and programs that have the greatest potential for mismanagement and abuse.  In the hands of bureaucrats, even something as seemingly benign as health care becomes a means for the observation, manipulation and control of a country’s citizens.  Of all the so-called solutions, insurance co-ops make the most sense to me, so that participation is strictly voluntary, and its members get to vote on who directs it.  But frankly, even the very concept of insurance seems largely absurd to me, unnatural and objectionable.

To begin with, the majority of people with health insurance will pay far more in premiums during the course of their lifetimes, than they would have spent direct-paying doctors.  If that weren’t the case, the insurance conglomerates would be losing money instead of making the billions and billions of dollars in profits that they do.  In addition, in an environment where there were no insurance companies, the costs of health care wouldn’t be nearly as high as they are now.   Providers can charge the insurers more than they would individuals, leading to doctors ordering expensive and often unnecessary tests that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

A problem with the very concept of insurance itself, is that it tends to make people more dependent and less responsible.  Kids sent out into the world with the insurance of a financial safety net tend to be more careless and cavalier than those teens and twenty-somethings who know they can’t count on their parents to pay for every mistake or bail them out of every jam.  Similarly, people insured from childhood on have proven to increasingly focus on treatment after the fact, than they do on prevention.  Subconsciously if not consciously, folks may feel less need to concern themselves with the effects of the foods they eat or the exercise they miss, when the believe they can always turn to a doctor to treat the heart disease and adrenal burnout their lifestyle choices may have caused.  For the same reason, the longtime insured are also less likely to ever learn how to treat themselves, even when dealing with simple conditions that are easy to both diagnose and affect.  They’re less likely to pay attention to their own bodily signs, to experiment with changes in the way they eat, to become familiar with herbal and other natural remedies, to seek advice from an experienced relative or midwife, or to visit and support community herbalists and natural healers.

If that weren’t enough, I am at a gut level repulsed by the very way in which insurance works.  All my life I have done what many thought was impossible, doing things differently than others, taking extreme risks, following a dream with little money and little common sense, but also little self doubt and even less restraint.  In essence, I bet on myself again and again, bet my life and belongings, even my future.  I was all the more careful and tried all the harder exactly because there was no backup, no fallback plan and no net, knowing that I had placed everything I am and own on “myself” in the “first”… “to win.”  It galls me even to be forced to pay car insurance we can’t afford every month, on a Jeep we drive less than ten miles to town and back, forced to bet our scarce funds on a game where I only get paid anything if I screw up and have an accident, or fail to notice some other driver screwing up in time to avoid the collision.  There is something seriously wrong about a government threatening us with jail unless we participate in some profit-producing game, especially one in which the only way for us to win is to lose!  And now they want to force me to pay for a health care arrangement where I get fewer benefits the better that I take care of myself, where I have to get sick or do something unaware and hurt myself in order to get any payback, and where I only win the lottery big if I come down with something serious, chronic and largely incurable.

We might better place our bets on our selves, on our driving abilities and the human body’s natural inclination towards health.  That way we’re more likely to pay attention to how aware we are being on the highway, and on how our bodies feel as well as how we are treating them.  It’s said that the worst thing that could happen this year is for the Congress to fail to pass on national health bill.  It would indeed be tragic for some us with no other way to get the high dollar, high-tech help.  On the other hand, doing nothing in the halls of Congress is always better than doing the wrong thing.  And it may prove that those without sanctioned insurance plans may be most conscious, concerned and caring… the response-able, responsive ranks of the growing unassured.

(Jesse Wolf Hardin is codirector of the Animá Lifeways & Herbal School, with Kiva Rose:  Feel free to share and post this piece)

  11 Responses to “Health Insurance: Disempowering for Patients, Harmful for Herbalists & Healers”

  1. I agree to large extent. We don’t have health insurance, because we are the middle ground who fall through the cracks. We make too much money for state assistance, and not enough to pay the premiums on as Jesse says, even the lousiest of policies. But I like it that way, because that means I don’t have to go to the state approved Dr. who “fired” us for not vaccinating our child like a good sheep, and I CAN go to the TCM/MD who doesn’t mind that half his patients opt out of vaccinations all or in part, even though I have to pay for it completely out of pocket. Just means I’m that much choosier about when I see the Dr.

    Although, the way I was taught that insurance works is that a group of people decide together that they want a financial safety net, as it were, so they regularly pool money into a “joint” savings account, which is then drawn on in emergencies. This is a concept of insurance that I can stand behind. It promotes community, interdependence, and empowerment. Imagine if neighborhoods had a resource like this! If someone broke their leg, or someone’s bike got stolen, or any number of things, they could have a lil extra in order to help cover the costs, and the feeling of community support behind it. Private insurance like this exists, but it’s not very well known or understood, and I think it would be even BETTER done at a grass roots community level, than even these private companies. So, I don’t disagree with the whole concept of insurance, but the concept that I grew up understanding looks NOTHING like our insurance does today in this country.

  2. I like Jess’ thoughts on this and anything I say is just thoughts coming to the surface, not debate.
    I am not as educated on this matter as many people.
    However two things that come to mind is
    1. the community insurance-although it sounds really really great, I still see human nature coming into play here. Why would it be fair to everyone, when the one who is most clumsy or has the tendency to get sick more often spends all that surplus money in the joint account for health care.
    Just from observation here, I live in a poor area of town and I see that some here are chronically sick and go the the hospital alot!

    secondly, my children are covered under state insurance. They have been for years. I have only had to use that insurance a handful of times.
    So having insurance does not neccessarily mean one will be careless or put their trust in doctors. But is sure is nice to have when one falls and needs stitches.
    As an herbalist, taking my kids to the doctor is usually a horrible experience because I do things so opposite of this system of care. However, it is nice to know that if absolutely needed, my kids are covered.

  3. I completely agree with the fact that our insurance system is largely responsible for inflated healthcare costs.

    I would have to say that I disagree with the idea that having insurance makes one careless, as well. My family has employer provided health insurance which I utilize for sports physicals and not much else. I am chancing my arms by saying this, but even with four children I have never had an emergency room trip or stitches.

    We waiver back-and-forth on the issue of insurance, some days I would like to drop it, when I actually sit back and let myself comprehend what a waste it is financially. But there are other times when I am comforted by the thought of knowing that if someone is in a car accident or a major medical issue crops up, we are covered to an extent. We live from paycheck-paycheck like most of middle America. There is no savings account nor do we use credit cards so I can’t charge unexpected healthcare expenses (believe it or not, I know people who do this).

    I think it unfair to assume that those of us who do pay for that peace-of-mind are unaware of our choices or irresponsible in the use of the insurance.

  4. No one would argue that insurance is not convenient. It certainly is.

    Nor is this a slam against mainstream medicine or healthcare in general.

    Wolf is quoting a statistic about preventative medicine vs acute care in the insured vs the insured, that’s not at all the same as saying that all insured people are careless.

    Stephany, I think that if you were to read the piece more closely, you would realize that no such assumption is made. You’ll noticed that much of this is qualified by “tends to” or “may” as is backed up by statistics in most cases. It’s not a value judgement, it’s an observation.

    Regardless, I think that Wolf’s underlying statement still stands firm and is accurate no matter which way you swing politically.

  5. Anyone who has had a family member or who has personally had a catastrophic health problem is acutely aware of the benefit of insurance. In 2006, my husband had a seizure, which was caused by a tumor on the brain. He had surgery in Seattle, and then the run of treatments, radiation to the brain and chemo, totalling about 7 months of treatments. We were low income, and had lost the wage earner, so “no income” from that point forward for about a year. Out of pocket medical expenses were minimal thanks to the insurance, and because we had no income, the chemo company donated their product for free. All the doctors, nurses, and support people were phenomenal. My husband made it through surgery, Deep Vein Thrombosis, 6 weeks of radiation therapy and 6 months of chemo, with no physical impairments, and has been clean of cancer ever since, which they verify with MRI’s every 6 months. He’s now on SSI disability and Medicare (or is it Medicaid? I cannot get it straight) pays for much of his continuing monitoring. That’s the upside.

    The downside is that the acceptable treatments of radiation and chemo are terribly destructive and extremely artificial. As well, once you are in the system, unless you have the fortitude, presence of mind, and time to sleuth out the “empathetic doctors” you go through their program, complete with their predictions and prognoses, and host of associated drugs to combat all the side effects of treatment protocols. In spite of the fact that these people really do want to help you, you become another guinea pig in the great drug and radiation experiment.

    Since that experience, I have been surprised and astonished to find out how many situations seem to require chemotherapy. In addition, everyone seems to have cancer. And as for people wanting a pill to make it better, don’t get me started.

    Our health care crisis is in large caused by the general shift to an artificial lifestyle, with abysmal food choices that lead to degenerative disease, which can only be palliated with drugs, never healed. The answer for this is not universal health coverage. It’s a change of diet.

    Presently I am a licensed massage practitioner and a student of East West Herb Course, aiming at professional status. I work one afternoon a week in a Nutritional Therapy office, where people come streaming in with serious degenerative diseases and deep adrenal exhaustion. The first thing my associate gives these people is a food journal. Next she works with them to change their eating habits. Sometimes this alone effects huge changes. She also can advise them on supplementation, and has had wonderful effect. This service is one of those “you pay,” not “co-pay,” and so the people who seek her out have some idea of personal responsibility. Some of these people come in medicated with 9 or 10 different prescriptions. We look them all up and go over the side effects with the clients. Getting them off unnecessary drugs is high priority.

    In essence, we have a huge population of substance abusers, sanctioned by the medical community and advertised to aggressively by the pharma companies, who are addicted to their prescriptions and suffering needlessly because they have no idea what a healthy lifestyle is. The country will certainly run to universal health care of some kind, and for saviour medicine, nothing is better. But if we want true health, we will have to make a lot of personal changes and choices.

    I hope to live as close to the ground as possible; as green as possible, to develop a network of healers devoted to simple care and treatment, and to educate as many as will listen. Jesse, Kiva, Loba, and all your wonderful tribe, I appreciate what you are doing, you have encouraged me no end.

  6. Wonderful wonderful article Jesse!! I couldn’t have written it better. I have family members with tons of insurance and they run to the doctor for sniffles, every ache and ailment, and have every new test that comes down the pike. They have no idea how to treat themselves and think we are extremely weird for being into alternative therapies. We, on the other hand, fall into the cracks. We have no insurance and don’t qualify for state insurance. Our income qualifies, but because we are caretakers and our housing and utilities are furnished, that disqualifies us.

    If we had a serious ailment, we too, would have to try to treat it ourselves and pray for the best outcome. A trip to the hospital would bankrupt us.

    Thank you for being a balanced voice in the midst of all this turmoil.

  7. Oh Jesse I so agree with everything you have said. I have been without insurance for most of my adult life. Up to now I have managed everything that has come up including a blown ACL and a slipped disk.

    In March I ended up in the hospital with what was left of a gangrenous appendix. The ER doc was stunned that I had had no other symptoms aside from pain which had gotten bad enough to finally go in. They kept saying I should be dead but credited my good health, my traditional diet and being non-smoking and non- drinking and of course my herbs. I should have been out in 3 days but alas my body shut down in reaction to the antibiotics – I hadn’t had any since I was 12 – first drugs at all since then. I left the hospital with no meds – again amazing the nurses since most people leave they said with at least 6 prescriptions. The ER doc was fascinated by the herbs and kept on asking questions until they finally wheeled me into the OR.

    I am now in debt. Slowly whittling it away on my meager salary. It is still my choice to go without. Did I take a risk? Perhaps but I’m 52 and have only once before needed to go to the doctor for anything. Once in 52 years I’ve had an emergency. For me it was worth the risk.

    It is interesting to note that since 1983 I had been off work only 9 days until this 3 week stint in March. I watch people I work with get sick all the time, diabetics stuffing themselves with cookies and cake then being off for days getting their blood sugar back in line, 2 lap band surgeries with little weight loss, etc. For them, Jesse is right, it is a safety net. They have no desire to change their lives and be healthy. That’s what they are paying insurance for they say. And then wonder why the premiums go up every year.

    It is a sad state of affairs when everyone says we need access to healthcare. We have it. We just don’t have access to the money the beaurocrats want to shell out for insurance and high medical bills.

    Everyone do your best to stay healthy! Bless you Kiva and Jesse!

  8. So agree! Here in Massachusetts a friend of mine who is getting alimony and just enough for her and her kids to keep things a float, will face a hefty fine come April if she doesn’t have insurance. The problem is that insurance companies year starts and ends in October and only has a specific time frame for open enrollment, miss that and you are SOL. While we pay our Taxes in April. Plus to find affordable insurance is a crap shoot for sure.
    We have become so dependent on the “outside” world to keep us healthy. We really need to learn to take back our power in deciding for ourselves how we will be healthy. That is why I will be enrolling in your Medicine Woman Core Path so i can get the knowledge and then pass it on. Allopathic/Homeopathic health care is the wave of the future. Bet on it.
    Thanks for the post.

  9. What an awesome post Jesse – WOW! Amazing comments, too, I can absolutely relate! Before I became a healer/divinatory type, I was a legal secretary many years, and had insurance. As a single mother without support from my ex, it was challenging enough to just work and get everything done, and to not have had the time to do deeper research. There is so much mis-education and I know it is deliberate. After I got formal herbal training, I was so angry that I spent much more money on insurance, and the subsequent monetary decisions with that which were not the healthiest, because that is what the doctors, nurses, and the media says.

    While I agree with some who believe that people have entirely given up responsibility for themselves, I do believed that everywhere around them, from family “shoulds” to society (advertising included), they were encouraged at every level to do so. Even those of us who wanted to be responsible had the wrong information. Why?

    Realizing the problem is more complicated than this, I feel the largest problem we have with our so-called health care (more like disease management) is the formation of the AMA (and subsequently, the FDA and Big Pharma, all taking their respective current roles). While I believe doctors should have standards, this group of chemical/surgery doctors sought actively to eliminate their competition – particularly their competition with healing philosophies that work (and when you eliminate competition, you can raise your prices, this is where insurance gets involved, amongst other things). Herbal medicine and Homeopathy were wrongfully attacked, as it was proven for thousands of years what herbs can do. Using the law wrongly, but to their favor, they were successful over 100 years ago in making it illegal to practice herbal medicine and other vitalistic healing practices. It is illegal to diagnose, illegal to treat, illegal to label herbs with their proven healing properties, and about the only thing we can do is teach others how to be their own family herbalists. Until the government tries to take away our freedom of speech/press and freedom of assembly (yes, I bet they will try!), I believe everyone that is taught these skills will benefit more than they can ever imagine.

    I also had another thought – what if our HealthCare Reform allowed the re-entry of these time-tested and proven methods of healing? What if competition was brought back? Insurance wouldn’t be needed, as prices would lower. I must admit that the one thing the Chinese were brilliant with was not only their herbal medicine and acupuncture, but also the fact that doctors only got paid when their patients were WELL! If a patient was sick, the doctor would work for free until they achieved wellness! What a concept! 🙂 I bet it was also pretty easy to know which doctors were really skilled and which ones were not under this system 😉 Hey – I know! How about us herbalists write a counter-HealthCare Reform and submit THAT to Congress? Besides the fact they won’t read it, I am sure none of them or their friends will make any money from the deal, and therein lies the root of the issue!

    In the meantime, anyone who can assess their risk of going without health insurance and use the monies saved for herbal training and to build up their herbal medicines as well as special needs (i.e. proper water treatment, etc.), will find their investment pays back much sooner than you think. Even if afterward you reinstate insurance for accidents and emergencies – you will feel so good knowing you can take care of many emergencies (yep, even broken bones) yourself, and anything that is a chronic condition always does better with herbs and natural treatments than with chemicals and surgery anyway – in fact, you might get the minimum policy at that point!

    In any case – I got a chance to read over the 1,000-plus page proposal, and while we have no way of knowing what stays and goes due to their supposed discussions, the document is deliberately written vaguely for later manipulation – in fact the manipulation openings were blatant. References throughout said if there was any doubt on that issue, an appointed “commissioner” (not voted) would decide what it really means. Given the track record of this administration, it is clear that our health is not high on their priorities and I would never trust anyone they decide to appoint – you can bet that, like the rest, they are a complete statist. Every American regardless of side ought to vote NO (well, I guess the people who will make money off of this will vote yes, but they are not being truthful as to why they vote yes, and the rest haven’t read it – beware!)

  10. I must say all this has really made me think. I have always been an advocate for socialized medicine but much of what has been posted here I can not argue with as I have seen it for myself. Definately food for thought and I thank you for this! Rob Andover

  11. Hi Kiva. Happy Holidays to you and to yours.
    I looked up health insurance on your site and found your article. I’m in a tug of war about whether or not to cancel my new health insurance policy, through my new job. I have two dependents, age 19 & 10, and the thought about not having insurance IF one of us needs hospitalization or immediate surgery scares me; On the other hand, having faith that all will be well. This policy, if I don’t cancel, will cost me $184.00 out of each paycheck, biweekly. That’s a lot of money for a single mother to dish out. We have internet, but don’t have cable. I have an older Jeep also that needs some work, and I live pay to pay, like many, many Americans. I don’t expect you to give advice on whether I should cancel my insurance, but I will thank you in advance for any comments you make. I’m your friend on Facebook also. I have until Jan 1 to cancel. I told myself I would not pay this kind of money again, when I paid it out from my last job.

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