Sanders Remarks on Complementary and Alternative Health Care

Opening Remarks
Hosted by Sen. Bernie Sanders
Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
October 16, 2010
Vermont Technical College, Randolph, VT

It is my pleasure to welcome all of you here today.  It was just about 15 years ago that I convened my first conference on complementary and alternative health care – right here at Vermont Tech.  A lot has happened since then in health care, and particularly in the area of integrative health care where there has been a growing understanding, acceptance, and use of complementary and alternative approaches by the public and professionals.  Yet, as we will hear and discuss at this conference, significant opportunities and challenges remain before us, especially in light of the recently passed health reform law. 
Helping us sort through all of this today is a distinguished guest.  You will hear from her later, but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Josephine Briggs, for joining us.  She is the Director of the National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) at the NIH.  Thank you, Dr. Briggs.
As you may know, an NIH survey has found that well over one-third of all adults use complementary and alternative health care products, professionals, and treatments.  A majority do so in conjunction with conventional medicine.  One example demonstrating the growth in complementary medicine use and acceptance -- over one-third of hospitals nationwide now offer one or more CAM services.  In just a recent three year period, this increased from about 26% of all hospitals to 37%.

To me, the increasing integration of CAM and conventional care just makes sense.  Research shows that more people are demanding and turning to integrative care because it parallels their personal values and desire to be treated as a whole person.  For a wide variety of reasons, more and more people are not simply content to go to a doctor’s office, get a diagnosis and take a pill.  They want to know what the cause of their medical problem is and how, when possible, it can be best alleviated through natural, non-invasive or non-pharmaceutical means.
People are asking questions, and they want answers. What role does stress play in our lives, how does it contribute to illness and how can it be alleviated?  What about diet?  Clearly, there is a revolution taking place in this country as people are more and more concerned about the quality of food that they and their kids are eating – and how that relates to our health?  Every corporation in the world is now selling us “organic” food.  Do we know enough about what constitutes a healthy diet? Is the federal government capable of standing up to powerful special interests as they research and advise the American people on diet?

People are also increasingly interested in knowing if there is an environmental causation of health problems and how those issues can be addressed on a societal or governmental level.  Do particulates in the air we breathe from coal burning plants contribute to asthma?  Is the water we drink clean?  What does it mean that pregnant women must now limit their fish consumption because of the heavy metal pollution which exists in lakes and rivers all across the country?
Are our kids becoming overweight and prone to diabetes because food manufacturers are selling them products with enormous amounts of sugar?  What impact does watching TV 40 hours a week have on health?  What role do chemicals play in cancer causation?  Are the tobacco companies still figuring out ways to hook young people into smoking – with the myriad of diseases that cigarettes cause?   And on and on it goes.
I believe integrative health care offers an excellent opportunity to address these and many other issues and improve our too-expensive and not always-effective “sick-care” system.  Clearly, we need to put much more emphasis on disease prevention and wellness, and on care that links physical and mental well-being.
We need to make sure that there is sufficient primary care so that every person in this country is able to get medical help when they need it – not when it is too late.  It is appalling that according to a study at Harvard some 45,000 Americans die each year because they don’t get to a doctor when they should and millions of others become much sicker than they should. 
As a member of the Health, Education Committee I worked hard with Senator Tom Harkin, the Chairman of that committee, to make sure that in the Health Care Reform legislation disease prevention in this country finally receives the attention and funding that it deserves.   And we had some significant success.  In the next 5 years, $7 billion dollars will be awarded to states and community organizations for health promotion and disease prevention programs.  That is a huge step forward.

One of the best examples of integrating health services has been the federally-qualified community health center program.  In one setting, FQHCs combine primary care services that include medical, dental, and behavioral health care, as well as low cost prescription drugs.  And their services are available to all regardless of ability to pay. 

Over the next 5 years, $11 billion will be added to the funding health centers now receive to double the number of FQHCs from 7,500 to 15,000 sites nationwide.  This will also double the number of Americans with access to community health centers from 20 million to 40 million.
Vermont is now leading the country in terms of community health center utilization and, and within a few years, every region in Vermont will have an FQHC and over 25% of Vermonters will get their care at 50 or 60 convenient locations.  Already, Vermont leads the nation with the highest percentage of people using heath centers for their care.  Over 108,000 patients are seen at one of the 41 sites run by the state’s 8 FQHCs. 

Just last week, 3 of Vermont’s FQHCs received $4.3 million in health reform funding to build new facilities to expand their services and increase the number of patients they see.  And a new health center is being built in Burlington thanks to stimulus funding of almost $11 million dollars.

Throughout the day today, you will have the opportunity to learn a lot more about CAM, not just how it will fit in with broader health and insurance reforms, but also at a more personal level.  We have workshops planned that include experts to talk with you about improving your own health.   So let’s begin.  Again, thank you all for coming.