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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

Affordable Integrative Health Care

Dec 23, 2016 08:09AM ● By Ann Reid

According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, in 2016 and beyond, health care costs are expected to outpace general economic inflations with a 4.5 percent growth rate. Additionally, big-ticket chronic diseases and mental illness cost the U.S. economy more than $1.3 trillion annually. Yet, as Harvey Fineberg, President of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), in a 2013 IOM report concluded, “The United States spends much more money on health care than any other country. Yet, Americans die sooner and experience more illness than residents in many other countries.” Clearly, the system isn’t working.

So how can we fix this? According to the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium, “There is no need to ‘discover’ a new model of care through statistical algorithms. Patients who work with Integrative Health and Medicine practitioners are already achieving the Triple Aim: they are healthier, have lower health care costs and report extremely high levels of patient satisfaction. Through a collaborative approach to health care, integrative health care solutions contribute to the Triple Aim of health care every day.”

Integrative Solutions to Chronic Problems

Daniel Cherkin, Ph.D., senior investigator at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, has led studies of low-risk integrative approaches to back pain. Cherkin says he is impressed by the evidence that yoga, spinal manipulation, massage and acupuncture can help patients with nonspecific back pain (not caused by a herniated disc, spinal stenosis or other diagnosed condition). Growing interest in these treatments “is spurred by the failure and risks of conventional approaches to pain, such as opioids and surgery,” he says. However, payment concerns are significant. Insurance often doesn’t cover an integrative approach.

Show Me the Money: Ford Motors, Aetna

When Ford Motor Company found that it was spending $80 to $90 million per year on managing employee back pain—a cost that was adding $400 to the price of every car they sold—they asked the University of Arizona Corporate Health Improvement Program (CHIP) for help.

In 2010, CHIP conducted a study at a Ford assembly plant in Louisville, Kentucky. Besides traditional medical care, employees were offered onsite clinical acupuncture, mind-body stress reduction therapies and referral to chiropractic services when indicated. Over six weeks, participants’ use of prescription drugs decreased by nearly 60 percent. Additionally, because employees cannot work on an assembly line while taking opiates, less medication use allowed more workers to return to their jobs, bringing savings on disability costs. Since then, Ford has adopted this integrative approach in other company health clinics, with their insurers covering the costs.

Following a devastating skiing accident, Mark Bertolini, who became CEO of Aetna, a Fortune 100 company with more than $30 billion in revenues and more than 20 million members, set about re-imagining his own health regimen as well as reshaping the culture of Aetna.

Bertolini’s experience coping with his devastating chronic pain led him to Viniyoga and mindfulness meditation for relief. He reasoned that if yoga and mindfulness had helped him so much, why shouldn’t it help his employees—and even Aetna’s millions of customers? In a series of visionary moves, Bertolini introduced a Viniyoga program which focuses on mental relaxation, stress-reducing breathing techniques and gentle, mind-calming yoga poses. Additionally, he introduced a “Mindfulness at Work” class, which focuses on work-related stress, life and work balance and self-care.

Despite these classes being introduced during a financial crisis—when layoffs were afoot, adding even more uncertainty to stressed-out workers—the results were impressive. After 12 weeks, compared with the control group, all Aetna employees who stuck with either yoga or their mindfulness training reported significant reduction in perceived stress and sleep difficulties. They also showed improved breathing and heart-rhythm coherence.  Additionally, compared with the control group, the employees who saw their stress levels drop lowered their overall health care costs by $2,000 per employee, per year.

Ann Reid, RN MA, is a freelance writer, holistic nurse and founder of the Lancaster Chapter of the American Holistic Nurses Association. Contact her at [email protected].

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