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Enhanced Prescription Drug Coverage - A Good Thing?

Government to Heighten Focus on Treating Symptoms of Illness Rather than Preventive Care

The headline in a local newspaper reads, "White House to Strengthen Prescriptions in Health Law", indicating enhanced coverage for medications for the millions that will receive coverage through the health care system overhaul mandated by the Affordable Patient Care Act, which has come to be known as "Obamacare".

This increased benefit will surely be seen by some as a positive development.  I question whether that is the case.

Although we spend more per capita on health care than any other country, our nation is the sickest on the planet and we consume the vast majority of the world's dangerous drugs.  Increasing access to prescription medication is unlikely to change that.

Prescription medications carry serious side effects, including death.  In recent years, these drugs have been marketed directly to us on television, thus we insist that our health care professionals prescribe them based on our layperson's analysis of what is best for us. These drugs do not provide cures, rather they treat symptoms.

Much of the illness and disability that we experience is self-inflicted through poor diet and nutrition, smoking, consuming alcohol to excess, and a sedentary lifestyle for which our bodies were not designed.

Providing more coverage for drugs takes the focus off of preventive care and away from taking responsibility for one's health.

From personal knowledge and experience, I am aware that in addition to exercise, a diet rich in whole grains, fiber, a large daily intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, and bolstered by key vitamins and supplements, are critical components of good health, including a strong immune system, and that good health does not sprout simply from taking pills.

Where in the Affordable Patient Care Act is government recognition and endorsement of the importance of nutrition and non-harmful, non-side-effect-ridden vitamins and supplements? To my knowledge, it is nowhere.   There is no coverage for key supplements such as turmeric, iodine, magnesium, fish oil, or multi-vitamins, but if one desires addictive tranquilizer Xanax or controlled drug pain reliever Oxycodone and a health care professional is willing to prescribe it, it will be paid for by the government (we who pay taxes).

If we were truly interested in preventing disease and illness rather than treating symptoms once a serious health problem has developed, health care plans would serve to encourage the elements of a healthy lifestyle.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kathleen Gaberson November 23, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Vitamins and supplements can be dangerous if not used properly. For example, megadoses of fat-soluble vitamins can have toxic effects. And many herbal supplements are dangerous when taken with certain prescribed drugs (for example, ginger and anticoagulants such as Coumadin [warfarin]). If you need to have surgery, you need to stop some supplements for a week or two before surgery because they interact dangerously with anesthesia drugs. Many people do not know that vitamins and supplements are not regulated by the Federal Food and Drug Administration. Thus, we have no assurance of their purity or even if the contents of the bottle correspond to the label. There is little or no scientific evidence that these supplements maintain health or prevent illness. Therefore, we do not know whether there is a minimum daily requirement or what amount is safe to consume. This is why vitamin and supplement producers are not allowed to make health claims on their labels or in their advertising. So claims that vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements prevent or treat illness should be treated with a great deal of caution. Not all disease is caused by bad health habits. Hypothydroidism (underactive thyroid gland) is common among middle-aged and older people, especially women. There is no known method to prevent it. It is easily treated with thyroid hormone replacement and although such treatment will never cure the disease, it does allow the person to live a normal life.
John Linko November 24, 2012 at 02:30 PM
I have to disagree with the assertion that "providing more coverage for drugs takes the focus off of preventive care and away from taking responsibility for one's health". That smacks of the logic used by those opposed to use of the vaccine Gardasil, which protects against cervical cancer caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). It was suggested by some that providing the vaccine to females 12 or older would encourage promiscuity. Many health plans already offer access to wellness information, so-called "health coaches" and surveys supposedly designed to assist subscribers with their individual concerns and collect information on their lifestyle. I believe that it's important to make smart decisions about diet, exercise, and other lifestyle choices, but those decisions and choices remain my own. As much as my information is protected from misuse and abuse by HIPPA and other laws, one has to remember that in a lot of cases you're giving this information to an insurance company, which is kind of like taking a swim in a pool with a shark. As far as providing benefits for non-prescription supplements - these are not regulated and/or approved by the FDA like prescription drugs are. The therapeutic value for many of them is often established only by the opinion or experience of the consumer. Insurers are probably going to want a little more scientific certainty that dried yak dung will cure your arthritis before they help to pay for it.
Oren Spiegler November 24, 2012 at 07:46 PM
I am pleased to have received responses to my essay from two of the most critical, but intelligent, articulate, and thoughtful Patch contributors, both of whom are willing to stand behind their views with their full names. Yes, - nutritional supplements can be dangerous if overingested, -there are instances in which they must be discontinued before surgery, - there are some illnesses that we do not bring on ourselves, -the FDA has not approved nutritional supplements. It routinely approves dangerous drugs, however, thus minimizing the importance of its stamp of approval. Merck's Vioxx painkiller was approved for widespread use, but has been linked to myriad deaths. The company paid a $950 million fine for withholding information about the drug's safety and pled guilty to a criminal charge. If I were to read an article that indicates that thousands have died from improper use or overdose of iodine or magnesium, I will begin to question whether these products should be used by the public. It is prescription medication "properly" prescribed about which I worry. Could it be that the reason supplements are not regulated or approved by the FDA is because of the influence of the pharmaceutical companies, their lobbyists, and massive contributions to the president and members of Congress? I trust both of you are aware of the extent to which the president involved the pharmaceutical companies in formulation of his health care overhaul.
Tracey Eakin November 26, 2012 at 12:26 PM
I commend all of you for some of your very insightful points. The more we help to spread the word, the more people stand to benefit. I agree that too much attention has been paid to treating the symptoms of disease with surgery and pharmaceuticals and too little attention is given to lifestyle changes that could resolve the condition, help the patient better battle the condition, or completely prevent it in the first place. More than 100,000 people die each year from the correct use of prescription drugs. Drugs and surgery are not always the panacea they are often made out to be. I recommend to my clients that they get their nutrients from whole plant foods and sunshine by adopting a low-fat, plant-based lifestyle. Sound scientific studies have demonstrated that this is your greatest weapon against disease. Increasing numbers of cases are indicating that supplements created in a laboratory not only may not provide you with the same benefit of those very same nutrients packaged as nature intended in food, but that they may actually cause you harm or increase your risk of mortality. Researchers have found that there exists nutrient synergy in food which results in benefits greater than the sum of their parts due to the beneficial interaction of components such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals including antioxidants, and fiber. People need to take responsibility for their own health by seeking help from those that base their recommendations on sound science.
Ed M November 27, 2012 at 12:17 PM
Where did you get your medical degree from, Oren? "Providing more coverage for drugs takes the focus off of preventive care and away from taking responsibility for one's health." Again your opinion not fact Oren. Wait until you need prescriptions more. You will be happy this is in place. And not using one's full name does not minimize their views and opinions.
B November 27, 2012 at 02:03 PM
"And not using one's full name does not minimize their views and opinions." thank you! While Oren might be proud of his public outspoken views, in today's world, when you say something on the internet with your name, it is there forever. It is also subject to public scrutiny and employer or potential employer scrutiny. I would rather not be fired because I might have an opinion on patch. Anonymity is the only solution, patch is lucky I used my first name.
Concerned Citizen November 27, 2012 at 04:13 PM
That's a common complaint on this page. The name of the poster doesn't make the statement any different. There are a lot of people that post here that make the assertion that "Since I use my real name, my points are more valid than those who don't." Scrutiny is certainly one reason to stay anonymous, being harrassed or stalked by someone with a different viewpoint is another valid reason. The bottom line is not using your real name doesn't make your point less valid, just as using your real name doesn't make it MORE valid. Why people get hung up on the name is beyond me.
JS November 27, 2012 at 11:32 PM
The question not addressed is- why aren't supplements being tested by our government? Many, many people take them, so why aren't we being made aware of their positive affects or their problems? The reason is easy - there is no money to be made by pharmaceutical companies by saying these supplements are safe, so the government entities, bought and paid for by these companies, have no desire to do the research required to protect the consumers from these products or find out they indeed do have postitive effects on our health.
Oren Spiegler November 28, 2012 at 12:47 AM
You have hit the nail on the head, JS! Thank you! Money talks to both Democrats and Republicans, and I wonder if many individuals realize the extent to which the pharmaceutical companies were involved in formulating both the (unfunded) George W. Bush Medicare Prescription Drug Plan and The Affordable Patient Care Act (which will most certainly NOT be affordable)!
Roger November 28, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Quoting: "... why aren't supplements being tested by our government?...." A question/statement, as if the government holds the best authority on these matters. They may hold final authority, but best ...? Well, not so much. It is always good to look to the government for answers to all questions, right?
JS November 28, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Remove your foil hat and look at who our society has entrusted to test and approve our food and drugs. I know your knee jerk reaction is the government can't do anything right but you, typically, haven't said who you would suggest to do this important function instead. Private industry - big pharma testing their own drugs, herbal manufacturers test their own products? I'm not suggesting government be looked at for all things, just testing what we put into our bodies. This thread is about supplements - why generalize and simplify into looking to the government for all things? Noboby is saying that but you. I'd love to see your plan for private testing of these types of products and how government doesn't need to be involved. The altruism of private corporations has so far eluded me, maybe you see something I keep missing.
JS November 29, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Agreed Bryan. People have different reasons for not using their full names on these sites. I used to use my full name on another political discussion site and ended up getting mail sent to my house with threats against me by somone not using their full name. Live and learn. I'm also starting a job search and do not want my political and religious views to affect my employment opportunities. Anyone who does not agree with anonymous posts can feel free to ignore them.
Roger December 01, 2012 at 01:09 AM
JS, a very recent example of government involvement that has proven negative results, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/11/30/aaa-e15-gas-harm-cars/1735793/ The list is endless, from environment, safety, finance, (fill in the blank). Thinking the government as the best authority is silly. Innovation does not come from the government.
JS December 02, 2012 at 03:00 PM
I agree, the government, pushed by corn belt legislators have gone too far with the ethanol program. It does not save energy and apparently is not good for all cars. What that has to do with drug and supplement testing, I can't tell. As usual, those of a certain idealogical bent tell us the government can't do anything, yet don't tell us who they think should be testing our drugs. Or maybe you're suggesting drug companies should be able to put any drugs on the market and it's up to the individual (individualism is big in some circles) to decide what to take and pay the consequences if it's not safe. The Republicans and the right are doing a lot of soul searching after the last election. This is a perfect example of one problem with them - lot's of no, the government can't do that, but not nearly enough alternatives.
Kathleen Gaberson December 03, 2012 at 12:10 AM
No, Oren, the real reason that supplements are not regulated by the FDA is the influence of a powerful supplement and "natural" remedy industry lobby. Do you have any evidence that Big Pharma contributed its support to these lobbying efforts? It would make more sense for the pharmaceutical companies to have supported FDA regulation of supplements because they know that there is little credible, scientific evidence to support the safety and efficacy of those products. If they were regulated, there would be far fewer of them on the market, thus Big Pharma would have less competition. Merck withheld information about Vioxx's safety from the FDA, and that's why the drug was approved. Once the FDA found out about the deaths, it banned the drug. This is not a reason to condemn the FDA; this is how the FDA protects US citizens. If vitamins and herbal supplements were regulated by the FDA, the same reporting requirements would apply to them. Then adverse effects of vitamin and supplement use could be reported to the FDA, and the agency would have the authority to ban the use of the products that were involved. We are not hearing about the untoward effects of vitamin and supplement use because there is no one agency designated to receive those reports and inform the public.
Kathleen Gaberson December 03, 2012 at 12:21 AM
The establishment of Medicare Plan D prescription drug plans was the worst piece of Federal healthcare legislation passed in my memory. The creation of a "doughnut hole" during which the sickest of senior citizens would pay the full price of the medications they need to live was an outrage. You're right, Oren--the pharmaceutical industry was heavily involved in support of that legislation. It has made them tons of money at the expense of senior citizens who live on fixed incomes, are REQUIRED to have a Medicare Part D plan and who PAY A PREMIUM FOR IT! The Affordable Care Act will make health care costs decrease because virtually everyone will be in the insurance pool and paying premiums. That will decrease the amount of uncompensated care that taxpayers pay for now. This uncompensated care tends to be more expensive than the preventive health care that the ACA will provide coverage for because it typically takes place in hospital emergency departments and other acute care facilities where high levels of care are required to treat advanced disease.
Oren Spiegler December 03, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Thank you for your entries, Ms Gaberson. To follow in this note is a link to a June 2012 Wall Street Journal news article, "Obamacare's Secret History", noting the unseemly influence the pharmaceutical companies exerted in the development of the Affordable Patient Care Act. I was appalled. I would welcome any evidence from a credible source that you can provide to indicate that lobbying of nutritional supplement makers has precluded the companies from being overseen by and subject to regulation of the FDA. I do not believe you have such evidence. If one looks at the history of mammoth pharmaceutical company settlements with the federal government and the number of individuals that have been harmed, even killed by prescription medications, it is clear that the FDA is NOT protecting us. You are welcome to stick with the prescription medication that you obviously favor as I ingest vitamins and supplements. I am confident that, along with a nutritious diet and daily aerobic exercise, I have an outstanding shot at maintaining my generally excellent health. I hope you will as well, whichever path you choose. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303830204577446470015843822.html
Kathleen Gaberson December 05, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Oren, I do have evidence that lobbying by vitamin and nutritional supplement manufacturers influenced the exemption of those substances from FDA regulation: http://www.uspharmacist.com/content/d/consult%20your%20pharmacist/c/11002/ This is an article by a pharmacist and professor of pharmacy, published in a peer-reviewed professional pharmacy journal. I believe that his credentials are appropriate to support the credibility of his assertions and conclusions. This is not my only source of this information, but I chose this one to post because it gives a succinct history of this issue supported with appropriate citations. Please note the discussion of the "tryptophan tragedy." And I do take some vitamins and minerals, but only those prescribed by my primary care provider to treat a deficiency diagnosed through laboratory and other tests. Like Tracey, I think the best way to get the vitamins and minerals I need each day is by eating a balanced diet of real food.

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