I’m not incredibly wealthy, but I am well-aware of my privilege as a white, college-educated woman. I grew up very middle class and thanks to the Texas Guaranteed Tuition Plan (which I wrote about here) I am debt free. Because I am training to be a clinician I have invested quite a bit of money in health and health education and though I dislike spending lots of money I look at it as a business investment because who wants to take advice from an unhealthy clinician? I also am fortunate to live in a place where I’ve been able to barter, use high quality sliding scale services and get very reasonable payment plans and even then all of my money is going to classes, herbs (building an apothecary), cooking supplies, water filtration (dude, getting fluoride out is expensive) and the occasional functional medicine appointment. Is my health worth it? Of course, but I could not justify the expense if I did not also think it would eventually lead to financial gain. Is that screwed up? Yea! Gah…capitalism…but let’s leave that rant for another day.
So for those of us going into the health field especially “alternative” health field, how do we help mitigate these costs for our clients without puting our own economic health in jeopardy? One of the many reasons herbalism appealed to me was because it has traditionally been the “people’s medicine”, but I’ve also seen examples of it being commodified and packaged in a way that is out of the reach of low-income folks and even day classes can be incredibly expensive. I understand that the herbalist needs to make a living and a $12 tincture is cheaper than say, metaformin, but if you have insurance (as many of us will now have!) then the tincture could actually come out to more. I’ve also spent a considerable amount of money to go to a functional medicine doctor only to be perscribed expensive supplements that at times cost nearly as much as the appointment and recommended a diet that is a bit more expensive. Though, I must stress for me it is only slightly more expensive, but for a family watching their budget it could prove to be too much. She has been wonderful in providing a discount for her services, but even with that discount the price would be out of reach for many. I don’t want you to think that I am attacking practitioners, they spend many years training and often go into considerable debt and because they don’t practice convential medicine the burden of their practice is entirely on them. These are often quailified, ahead of their times individuals who are trying to promote health in a culture of consumerism gone wild and quick fixes and this culture is turning true wellness into something only attainable by the elites.
I don’t have answers, but I do have some ideas for what I hope to be able to provide someday. Admittedly, there is a lot I do not understand about our health care system so please correct me if I’m way off. I think cooperatives are the future and would love to see more health care cooperatives open up. Clients could pay a monthly or yearly fee based on income for unlimited care and practitioners could be paid a salary based on experience and education level that could be readjusted evenly based on the success of the business (affordable classes could also be offered to supplement the practice). I’ve chewed this idea around with friends before and then happily stumbled on this article that talks about “team based care” and though the word cooperative is never mentioned it can easily be adapted into a cooperative business model. I also think it is important for practitioners to know what is available in their community for low-income folks and to seriously take socio-economic factors into consideration. This was one of the many reasons I decided to go back to school for social work because it will give me access and working knowledge of those programs in my community.
I see a lot of hope in complimentary alternative medicine as it often looks at the root cause of illness and tries to eliminate it. Like many of you I believe that good health can be revolutionary especially in the face of big ag, big pharma and relentless junk food marketing and like most revolutions this movement is coming from the middle and upper middle classes, but for true change we must include and work with everyone. I’m not one to usually call for revolution because of its historically violent connotation, but as a species we are in the midst of an existential crisis and I don’t see the situation improving without a cultural overhaul and I hope to make my contribution through health care. Knowing that there are others thinking and acting in this way is what keeps me going so feel free to list organizations/groups/people who move you to move.