Testimony Before the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy

Testimony prepared for delivery before the
White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy

January 23, 2001
New York City

Grace-Marie Arnett
President, Galen Institute

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the commission, for the invitation to speak briefly here today.

My name is Grace-Marie Arnett, and I am president of the Galen Institute, a public policy research organization based in Alexandria, VA that is devoted to ideas that advance a more vibrant consumer-driven health sector.

Many Americans are increasingly frustrated with the U.S. health system because they face barriers to care. For 43 million Americans, that means a lack of health insurance. For millions of others, it means that access to the care they want – sometimes complementary or alternative health treatments – is blocked by either financial obstacles or by a lack of information about the full range of treatments available.

As we speed into the Information Age, Americans are frustrated with a system that puts someone else – either a private or a public-sector bureaucracy – in charge of deciding what health care they will or will not receive.

Unfortunately, the roots of these problems are based in the way we subsidize health care in this country. Because of the way subsidies are structured, we literally give control over life and death decisions to bureaucrats and politicians who have never met us – people who care more about a balance sheet than about our health and well being. Until we get financial power back into the hands of the American people, these frustrations will continue to grow.

Let me explain what I mean about the way we subsidize care: People who are poor or old or young are very likely to qualify for one of several government health care programs -Medicaid, Medicare, or the State Childrens Health Insurance Program. In these programs, government officials make up lists of what medical treatments those who qualify for these programs are entitled to receive.

Those who have health coverage through the workplace are eligible for the health plan – or, if they are lucky, the health plans – their employer selects for them, and the benefits that those plans provide. It is virtually impossible for even the smallest firm to provide coverage that suits the particular needs of each employee. Most have just one option regarding health insurance – take it or leave it.

Why is this relevant to an investigation into complementary and alternative medicine? Because, Mr. Chairman, in Washington we are at a crucial point when real policy changes are possible that will begin to put power and control back into the hands of individual consumers.

I describe the ideas in a book I edited, entitled Empowering Health Care Consumers through Tax Reform. The ideas in this book have been adopted by President Bush as part of his plan to increase access to and affordability of health coverage.

The centerpiece of this plan would provide tax credits worth nearly $2,000 to families to purchase their own health insurance.

While this is only a start, it could be a transformative change. For the first time, subsidies would be structured to allow people to begin deciding for themselves the shape of their health plans rather than having them dictated by politicians or bureaucrats.

This change also would dramatically increase the opportunities for patients to have access to CAM treatments.

My primary recommendation would be that the commission investigate further changes in tax policy that would lead to greater availability of complementary and alternative medicine treatments. In a new world, instead of having the power structures decide what treatments are and are not covered, people would be able to choose for themselves.

The idea of providing tax credits to help people obtain their own health insurance has strong bi-partisan support in Congress. This issue will be front and center as Congress begins the debate over tax cuts, and it would be very helpful for political leaders to hear from people who understand this important connection between federal subsidies for health insurance and consumer choice of health care.

Our motto at Galen is: “Whoever controls the money controls the choices.” If we put power and control back into the hands of consumers, they will have access to a much broader range of health care options.

I would be happy to describe our ideas in detail. Thank you for the opportunity to present this brief overview.

For more information, contact Grace-Marie Arnett, Galen Institute, Alexandria, VA, (703) 299-8900. Fax (703) 299-0721.
E-mail galen@galen.org

Grace-Marie Arnett is president of the Galen Institute, a public policy research organization based in Alexandria, Virginia. She is the editor of Empowering Health Care Consumers through Tax Reform, published in 1999 by the University of Michigan Press.

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