Note: This is the final essay in a series of three about Health Care reform in the United States. The first was about the need for honesty and civility in the debate. The second was about the impact of race in the health care conversation.

Shakespeare wrote

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

As I’ve tried to make clear in my first two essays I don’t find the screaming at town hall meetings, the misinformation about “pulling the plug on grandma” or “its a Nazi socialist plot” particularly useful in a rational debate about health care. I believe it is important to understand that “race” does impact one’s health due to both access to–and the quality of care offered within–the system of health care currently in place in the United States. It is important to recognize that the profit interests of insurance companies, pharmaceutical and hospital corporations, health care lobbyists and many elected officials can be in direct conflict with the interests of people seeking to be healthy.

It is also clear that we each have our role to play on this stage. The better we perform the more successful the production will be.

One important role each of us can play is that of being well-informed. The media focuses too much on vitriolic people at the fringes. It takes effort to watch calm discussions of the issues; to approach health care reform more dispassionately, methodically. It means asking questions; reaching out to a variety of people and resources for answers (yes, even YouTube).

Our family is currently impacted by the health care debate very directly and personally. My wife Lindi was recently laid off from her job after 12 years. Our access to health insurance has been through her employment. We faced difficult choices. One significant benefit that we were previously unaware of is provided by the federal economic stimulus package. 65% of the cost of continuing health insurance coverage through choosing COBRA is paid for up to 9 months for eligible individuals. This benefit will help a great deal in the short term as we work through the impact of Lindi’s job loss. Learning about this–and other benefits–requires consultation, questioning, and research.

Another role we each can play is that of a lobbyist. Congress returns to work on health care reform next week. How can we be most effective in communicating with our elected representatives that which is in our best interests? I believe most people support a system that would provide cost-effective–and health-effective–health care for themselves and all citizens of the United States. Our representatives should deliver health care reform that meets these criteria. We must let them know. Otherwise the screamers and subterfugers will continue to dominate the conversation. I maintain no illusions that this will be easy. Those with a huge financial stake in the outcome of the debate (insurance, pharmaceutical, and health care corporations, and their lobbyists) will not stop trying to influence your elected representative to act in ways that increase their profits. Your health is not their primary concern. Read what economist Paul Krugman says we’re up against here (I recommend sliding past the partisan grumbling to the second half of his column where he discusses corporate influence in this debate). As daunting as the task before us is, we must continue to try.

Once again I encourage you to investigate–and hopefully support–Senator Ron Wyden’s proposed legislation, the “Take Back Your Health Act” (S. 1640). Wyden’s proposal focuses on intensive lifestyle changes as treatments, not just as prevention alternatives. Lifestyle changes would become complementary to what we now see as regular medical care.

Along these lines, the other critical role we must play is that of health care provider to ourselves. Not enough emphasis in the public debate has been placed on taking more responsibility for our own wellness. I’m certain that each of us can do more to improve our diet and exercise regimens. We can investigate natural remedies (grandma knows, which is why we’ll never pull that plug!). We can learn the benefits of meditation and other stress reduction activities. We can choose alternatives like massage and acupuncture to prevent distress and disease.

In the current issue (#23, Summer 2009) of the Institute of Noetic Sciences Shift magazine is the article “Evidence Adds Up to a Health Care Revolution” by Vesela Simic (click here for the site where you can download a pdf of the article). Highlighted are several evidence-based studies regarding “Integrative medicine” which refers to “the full range of physical, psychological, social, preventive, and therapeutic factors that support optimal health.”

In February 2009 the Institute of Medicine and the Bravewell Collaborative hosted the Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public. From the above-noted Shift article, factors critical to health care reform were identified. They include:

  1. Focus on prevention and wellness with the patient at the center of care.
  2. Lifestyle-modification programs have been proven to improve overall health and well-being and also to mitigate and sometimes completely heal chronic diseases.
  3. Genetics does not predetermine one’s health. Research shows that gene expression can be changed (for good or ill) by nutritional choices, levels of social support, and the inclusion of stress-reduction activities in one’s life such as meditation and exercise.
  4. All health care professionals should be educated in the importance of compassionate care that addresses the biopsychosocial dimensions of health.
  5. Evidence-based medicine–which emphasizes the need for research and testing that expand the evidence for integrative models of care–is the only acceptable standard.

I hope you’ll take the time to download and read the article. It will further inform your thinking about health care.

When health care reform is finally passed, or not passed, the result–no matter what it is–will not do for the vast majority of us what we can do for ourselves by changing our lifestyles. All we men and women are not merely players on the world’s stage. We are each the lead actor in our own health and well-being.