Why Not Us, What Do We Have to Lose

Submitted by Robert Felt on December 24, 2008 - 2:37pm.

This blog is more personally written than usual. I think the personal commentary makes it clear that what I am suggesting here comes from my individual experience and bias. Nonetheless, I believe the main idea , that of an outreach to the new Obama administration, has merit regardless of its roots in my personal life.

During the last six months I have been so concentrated on finishing the Concise Chinese Materia Medica , the New Mexico Senatorial and Congressional elections, and particularly the U.S. Presidential Election, that it has been impossible for me to blog or even respond to posts on the CMN listservice. It was not that I did not see anything that required a response but that I could not drag my concentration away from my work and the election. It was the challenges facing the US and the world that demanded attention. Writing that feels arrogant (what have I got to do with the "US and world") but sitting on the side-lines seemed unconscionably irresponsible. Even though I could do little, little was better than nothing.

I supported Barrack Obama's candidacy. With two progressive candidates locally in New Mexico - Ben Ray Lujan now our Congressional Representative and Tom Udall now our Senator, and most of our friends here in Taos working on the election (as well as a group of really smart, socially-conscious collegians the Obama campaign sent to Taos), the election became something of an obsession. This was not always the case for me. Until early in the summer of 2008 the cynicism of watching five decades of US. politics dominated my thinking, furthered by my personal inclination to prefer thoughtful, even "wonky," rather than charismatic leaders. But, as Obama said more and more of the things I had waited - seemingly forever - to hear any politician say, I suspended my cynicism without really being fully able to articulate why.

It was not until I was watching my youngest son following the election results on television and on his computer while text messaging to his equally-interested friends that I realized that in addition to accepting Barrack Obama as an authentic individual, I had accepted him as the impetus for the second transformational, generational political movement of my lifetime.

I became politically aware during the 1960 Kennedy - Nixon election. I was 15, the same age as my youngest son is today. We were among the poorest families in a relatively rich and highly republican suburb. In language that I heard everyday, Kennedy was a "Mickey" (Irish Roman Catholic), who would take orders from the Pope, and destroy American values with his vaguely socialist "New Frontier." The attacks on Obama were, while differently framed, sourced in the same attempt to demonize "otherness," his not-belonging with "us" but with "them." Clearly, his blackness, his biracial roots, were a significant "otherness," but at least as important was the fact that to a considerable extent his policies represented a clear break with the established order. Obama's speech on race, in my opinion to an even greater extent than Kennedy's 1960 Houston speech declaring his political independence from his church, displayed Obama's willingness to intelligently address the uglier aspects of American politics.

I don't think I need to take that argument too far, as it has been quite broadly discussed. However, Obama's campaign and now his transition team have used the Internet not only as a source of small-donor funds but as a listening post, a source of ideas from unconventional sources. And this, finally, is where this post is going.

Let us take four facts as givens. First, there is now, and for the first time, a point of access where Chinese medicine can at least get a hearing.  I am not saying that  I know how Obama's personnel choices will respond to Chinese medicine and acupuncture.  I don't.  But, I can see that no other President, before of after taking office, has ever opened an Internet listening post for citizen inputs. However you might personally estimate he odds of success, if any political entity has ever been open to what Chinese medicine offers, it is the Obama transition organization and his eventual administration.

Second, the next congress will likely focus the broadest political attention to health care ever seen in the U.S. since Ms. Hillary Clinton's initiative.  Not only is health care a contributing cost to the economic quagmire the Bush Administration leaves but Obama's economic team seems clearly committed to the largest domestic stimulus program since the New Deal.   There is no question Chinese medicine and acupuncture can contribute, just the question as to whether we can make that case.

Third, the big health insurance firms, pharmaceutical companies and their congressional supporters are at their weakest point in generations. Clearly, not every Senator or Congress person getting contributions from "Big Pharma" and "The Insurance Industry" is a Republican. However, working democratic majorities should be less heavily-laden with health lobbyist largess, at least in the beginning. Likewise, AIG an insurance giant that has already sheltered beneath the "Troubled Asset Repurchase Program" (TARP) is not the only insurer in at least moral debt to the U.S. Treasury, that is U.S. citizens.

Finally, the US. F.D.A., C.D.C.. and N.I.H.are likely to get new professional (as opposed to political) leadership. Obama's choice of professional scientists as his advisers and cabinet and sub-cabinet administrators strongly suggests that facts might actually get a hearing.

So here is the point I am pushing toward: Given these facts, why don't we as a whole profession, make our case for inclusion in national health care policy?

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have done remarkably well at finding a place in the health care systems of many nations, including the US. They have done this person by person, case by case, but some of their primary benefits to humanity - a relatively inexpensive education (I know students will find that a bit ironic), a low cost of delivery, a high ratio of return to risk, and a great cost benefit from preventative care - will only produce the greatest social impact when broadly incorporated into whatever the world's health care delivery systems become in response to what is a world-wide crisis of health care costs.

Put simply, I propose that we get together as a profession and write a "term paper" on how Chinese medicine and acupuncture should and can be incorporated into the US health care system, including Medicare, Medicaid, and whatever health insurance schema evolves from forthcoming legislation.

I'm not saying that this will surely, absolutely work. I am saying that we would not be the only ones to give this direct citizen lobbying a try. Locally, citizens here in Taos are working to offer non-nuclear energy re-tasking ideas for the national laboratories in Los Alamos. Nationally, green advocates have already presented ideas to Obama's transition organization.

Why not us? What do we really have to lose?

I'm not saying that Paradigm Publications should do this. I think that our national practitioner organizations are the proper venue but that schools, businesses, and individuals with specific knowledge should be accessed for their expertise. We all have a stake in this, even outside the US such a change would have profound effects. The Obama team's statement on health care concentrates on affordability. Thus, I think that our proposal should concentrate on cost, on how a broader utilization of Chinese medicine and acupuncture will lower health care costs, particularly through prevention, increase workplace productivity, and support for expensive and highly invasive biomedical procedures such as radiation and chemotherapy. I also feel that the businesses that serve our field should play a significant role. For example, prepared formula companies probably have some of the best access to information about the role of Chinese medicine in East Asia.

How such an effort should be structured, who should lead, and where to place the emphasis, should be the outcome of a broad effort, one that is as inclusive as possible and managed by an organization that is responsive to the whole community.

Why not us? What do we really have to lose?


Submitted by Ken Rose on December 28, 2008 - 10:01am.
For some time it has seemed clear to me that planning along the lines mentioned here requires several key areas of focus. One, a long standing objective for Paradigm and other publishers in the field, is the creation of a suitable matieral basis for ongoing planning, education, and clinical development. Another is education, i.e., learning to understand and apply the substance contained in this base of materials. Both of these, naturally, require...can only come into existence once a sustainable clinical model is in routine operation. What I suggest we be composing, therefore, is a plan for an institution that can continue minimally along these lines...and others that emerge as needful as we proceed. I am delighted to cooperate on a term paper, but I think that at the outset we should get the coordinates, order of magnitude, and general scope of such a composition into view. We can do it here, on the list, or anywhere for that matter. Here on Vinegar Ridge we are moving forwards with plans to establish a Chinese medical language and classics training center. Elisabeth Rochat will be conducting workshops here next year. And as before we stand ready to offer this place as a meeting, residence (short and long term), retreat, etc. location. It seems to me that in the spirit of work on what has been spoiled, we now face the best opportunity of our short and humble lives. Ken
Submitted by Zev Rosenberg on December 24, 2008 - 11:32pm.
A great and timely idea, Bob. I also felt this election was a transformational moment for the U.S., and I agree that Chinese medicine may have a place at the table for redefining health care at a critical and sensitive time (by the way, my daughter Heather in Colorado was a major operative for Obama in the Fort Collins area). While I am not in the heart of the political arena these days in terms of our profession, I will think carefully upon the ideas you present. I actually would be more supportive of our small group offering a position paper via Paradigm Press rather than some larger group, easily to manage and agree upon. Z'ev Rosenberg