You Say Tomato, Your Health Plan Says "Quack!"

By ACSH Staff — Feb 24, 2003
"You say tomato. I say tomato." It's not only a saying that fails to work when used in print instead of uttered aloud, it's also the wacky, devil-may-care opening line of a booklet promoting alternative medicine that Oxford Health Plans sent out a few days ago to all of their participants, including, ironically, us skeptics at the American Council on Science and Health.

"You say tomato. I say tomato." It's not only a saying that fails to work when used in print instead of uttered aloud, it's also the wacky, devil-may-care opening line of a booklet promoting alternative medicine that Oxford Health Plans sent out a few days ago to all of their participants, including, ironically, us skeptics at the American Council on Science and Health.

"No matter which path you choose to wellness, Oxford provides you access to quality care through a network of credentialed providers," assures the booklet. "Each provider must also be recredentialed once every three years and must be committed to continuing education in his or her discipline." I don't want to sound like an ingrate, and obviously Oxford has some good things going for it or we wouldn't have joined, but this means that our premiums are now helping to pay for other plan participants to get treatments from acupuncturists, yoga instructors, chiropractors, massage therapists, and perhaps worst of all, naturopaths ("in Connecticut only"), who, as the booklet explains, when treating high blood pressure, "instead of [suggesting] medication...may suggest diet modification and breathing exercises."

The fact that the practitioners need to be recredentialed every three years is not all that reassuring, since as an article reprinted on HFAF last year noted even dogs and cats can be credentialed in some alternative medicine practices. Furthermore, being fully accredited in a nonsensical discipline is not necessarily a good sign no matter how solid the "credentials."

Perhaps nonsensical is a bit unfair. As I noted in an e-monograph about alternative medicine last year, there must be some psychological benefits to things like massage or there wouldn't be so many eager customers, but that doesn't mean these practices have any place in physical medicine or can treat physical disease (that's why I call naturopathy the worst of the offenders listed above the others are arguably just over-hyped relaxation techniques, expensive versions of sitting in a rock garden for an hour or two).

The Oxford head honchos no doubt know that they're wandering into murky waters, which explains tentative-sounding lines like this one, in the letter that accompanied the booklet: "When you think of acupuncture, massage therapy, or yoga, do you think about your health plan? Probably not, but perhaps you should." I guess I won't be able to help thinking about my health plan now. Any time people responsible for your physical wellbeing start using apologist lines like these, worry: "CAM [complementary and alternative medicine] emphasizes healing and disease prevention by treating the mind, body, and spirit. Its popularity is on the rise, with an estimated one out of every three adults turning to alternative approaches."

Just because it's popular, of course, doesn't mean it makes sense. Markets are highly efficient but are no guarantee of the common sense of the customers. Just last night, I spoke to a young woman fond of alternative healing methods who also believes that keeping a lucky black pebble near one's telephone wards off unwanted calls. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find this technique spreading like wildfire among New York City's overworked temps, but the demand being met would be driven by wishful thinking, not proven results.

We have to distinguish between states of mind and real physical effects, and Oxford's quest to aid my mind, body, and spirit doesn't help. It just alters my mental state to one of worry and may decrease the size of my wallet.


February 25, 2003

Dear American Council on Science and Health:

The main reason increasing numbers of Americans (and other people around the world) are turning to alternative medicine, is because "official" medicine is killing and scarring millions of Americans.

Some of the leading causes of death today are prescription drugs (and their interactions), doctors, and hospitals. One reason for this is that demand is far exceeding supply, due to programs like Medicare. The programs are third-party-payer-based, which means they have a great incentive to expand without needed cost controls. So reform there is essential, to make them more directly consumer-oriented.

The fact is that prescription drugs have side effects, many of which are worse than the ailment being treated. Although they are rigorously tested, many of their detrimental effects are not known until years after being approved. Many of them are quite effective, but since the companies have massive influence on FDA policies, profit often comes before consumer protection.

You have a point that there is a danger that some "iffy" treatments may get the official stamp of approval, with only limited physical benefits from the treatments themselves.

But consider that most plants and herbs have been around and used for thousands of years, while overhyped new drugs are only recently formulated. Should we throw out the entire wisdom of the ages, in a conceit that our scientific minds are wiser than the billions of people who used herbs before?

The other complicating factor is the AMA, which is a medical cartel seeking to control medicine. A cadre of power-seeking physicians should not be able to prevent patients from getting effective treatments, no matter how outlandish those treatments may seem. Consumers should control health care, not any cabal of self-interested elders.

It is often stated that "we need more scientific studies" of herbs and similar treatments, but when highly biased studies are made, is this supposed to prove the ineffectiveness of the alternative treatments? I think not.

For a terrific unbiased source of integrative medical information (indeed, the future of health care), just check out the Life Extension Foundation at They have an army of doctors and exhaustive studies.

Americans (and all other people around the planet) should be free to pursue whatever kind of health care they want; after all, the pursuit of happiness is our basic God-given right. Insurance companies interested in quality of life would do well to embrace alternative health, as an antidote to the "slash and burn" interventionist medicine that has scarred so many lives (but has also transformed many lives). It is up to consumers to decide the path they travel to a healthier tomorrow.


Seavey replies:

People have the right to choose but it does not follow that they always choose wisely. Indeed, airgun177 admits as much when he suggests that they are mistaken in taking pharmaceuticals (though he fails to weigh pharmaceuticals' life-saving benefits in his tally of their death toll). The question, then, is whether the anecdotes, subjective reactions, and folklore that buttress alternative medicine are more reliable than carefully constructed scientific tests. Neither is perfect, but the latter is clearly far more refined and is as much an outgrowth of centuries of human wisdom as the folk medicine airgun177 embraces.

Part of the ongoing process of civilization is the replacement of bad or imperfect ideas with better ones. Rejecting that aspect of human knowledge would permanently saddle us with whatever ancient beliefs endured the longest prior to airgun177 and others calling a halt to progress: belief in a flat Earth, burning of witches, etc. An aesthetic and philosophical bias against mainstream technology and in favor of ancient practices leads airgun177 and other Luddites to exaggerate the benefits of herbs and the like while focusing only on the most negative aspects of modern medicine.

And considering what a booming industry alternative medicine is these days, one would think profit-hungry doctors and a power-seeking AMA, if airgun177 correctly characterizes them, would be eager to climb onboard the alternative bandwagon. Unless, of course, they actually care about scientific standards.

Todd Seavey

March 1, 2003

Today, in the U.S. and in many states, Americans have supposedly received the "right" to freely access any complementary or alternative medicine they wish to choose. "Free" is the key operative word: freely accessible, as long as it doesn't get reimbursed. This is ludicrous and immoral, a paradigm that has been referred to as "medical slavery."

Simply look to your dictionary (even a medical dictionary) and see with your eyes and mind the definition of "allopathic medicine." You will find words such as "antagonistically suppressing symptoms" and "unlike homeoapthy," and nowhere to be found will you see the words "to cure" which, by the way, do not mean what everyone thinks they mean. Look up that word and ponder its root. It means "to take care of."

It is curious that acupuncture and oriental medicine are key international standards of health care _except_ in the United States. It is also curious that in many other countries of the world, according to the W.H.O., where "alternative" medical systems are embraced, healthcare costs are negligible compared to health care costs in the U.S. This year at the W.H.O. international symposium in Latvia, detailed figures were offered showing the U.S., once again, as #1 in highest healthcare costs in the world at $5,185 per capita per year, whereas it slipped from excellence in delivery of healthcare from #30 to #37. Other countries coming close to the U.S., at #39 for example, were way down on the list of healthcare costs at #130 out of 140 countries. In those countries where healthcare costs are kept to a minimum they embrace "traditional and essential" medical systems such as acupuncture and oriental medicine.

There is no way ever to convince people and organizations who are stuck in the right side of their brains nor should any of these stand-alone systems of medicine be required to do so. Biased research abounds. I just heard one the other day about an M.D. connected to the U.S. government stating that Chinese herbs do nothing for women's menstrual and/or menopausal symptoms. This is the most ridiculous statement every heard and it is certainly not based upon any fact or real research. Let the allopaths truly study Chinese Materia Medica instead of a couple hours of home videos and then use it properly over many years and then do unbiased research, and the proof will be confirmed in the results.

With the use of Chinese Materia Medica, there are known gastroenterologists who refer their most difficult patients to me, including their most difficult cases of bleeding "ulcerative colitis." These M.D.s are the ones who say to their patients when referring them to me, "I don't know what this guy does, but he not only cares about his patients he also cures all of our most difficult ones."

Ancient beliefs? Please, Mr. Seavey. Do you realize that Chinese medicine has been around for at least 5,000 years and allopathic medicine for about eighty years? Chinese medicine has gone through its trials and errors, whereas Western allopathy has just begun its journey. I guess the fact that 65% of all Western drugs come from Chinese Materia Medica doesn't wake you up. Rockefeller was in China starting in 1921, scavenging through the Chinese formulary for ideas for new drug patents.

Let's focus on reality and create a level playing field. Western drugs are generally not meant to cure anything but to suppress symptoms. Sometimes that is important but only as an interim measure. Where does the "healing" part come in, if ever?

People ask who will pay for senior citizens medications. I ask legislators, "Why isn't someone asking why they are taking so many medications?" at which point their mouths go silent. The average senior citizen cared for by Florida Acupuncture Physicians is ingesting as many as eighteen different kinds of drugs. Let's get real in our facts and figures instead of just offering propaganda or more of the party line.

In case you hadn't looked lately or at all, allopathic medicine has some great technological developments for acute trauma and maladies, and some great diagnostic tests, but fails terribly regarding chronic conditions.

As to profit-hungry doctors and power-seeking allopathic associations: they are in fact trying to usurp CAM. And in their machinations they do not wish to pay the time or the price for proper education. You obviously hadn't noticed or maybe are stating this so that unsuspecting CAM providers don't see what is happening.

Let me offer a challenge. I specialize in certain non-invasive Chinese body work techniques and have treated over 10,000 patients successfully with these over many years. Let me further emphatically state as a challenge to all those who would scoff at Oriental medicine: choose the simple myofascial pain syndrome called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The U.S. collectively spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year on this malady, and much of it goes towards surgical intervention and recovery thereafter. What if I told you without a question of a doubt that these Oriental body work techniques can in one to two treatments permanently resolve 99% of all of the patients ready for surgery? The few exceptions are those who have gross physical abnormalities such as severed nerves or gross bone impingements that either need surgical intervention or cannot be repaired. Furthermore, this technique can be taught to anyone with minimal effort or background knowledge.

Let's put it to the challenge and make sure that our opinions are clearly from an experiential base and not from "whim and fancy" or parroting someone else's propaganda.

Be informed that there are a number of M.D.-acupuncturists who have been practicing the limited use of acupuncture needles for over twenty years and who wish to do real research studies with me on these techniques. They obviously realize they don't know everything and just might be missing some critical aspects.

A great U.S. Neurosurgeon turned swami (Dr. Ramamurti Mishra, M.D.) once said that the Eastern person is dying of hunger, and the Western person is dying of overeating. The Eastern person has great vision and weak legs, and the Western person is blind but has strong legs. The two need to join together in a true symbiosis. This will never happen until Western minds begin to meditate and become "aware" of themselves and their surroundings by silently becoming "aware" and "looking." Then and only then can they see the truth.

Richard A. Freiberg, DOM, DAc, AP


Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine National Coalition

Seavey replies:

Meditation is nice, and well-documented results from large clinical trials with clearly-defined criteria for success or failure, reported in peer reviewed journals, would also be nice. In the meantime, I don't doubt that many countries too poor or technologically backward to buy all the healthcare that the U.S. can will turn in desperation to traditional/alternative healing methods.