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ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE ROLE IN WHITE HOUSE HEALTH PLAN URGED

This article was originally published in The Tan Sheet

Executive Summary

ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE ROLE IN WHITE HOUSE HEALTH PLAN URGED by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in comments to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala at an Oct. 6 Senate Labor & Human Resources Committee hearing on preventive medicine in health care. "More than 50% of the American people, at some time during the year, will use some form of alternative medicine," Harkin said. "I don't know what's going to be in the plan, but if it's going to sort of obliquely refer to alternative methods and practitioners, I think it's going to be deficient. I think it has to incorporate them fully." Harkin, who has been a strong supporter of the National Institutes of Health's Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM), suggested that alternative medicine could have a useful role in preventing serious conditions and expensive treatments. He noted that the reasons consumers turn to alternative medicine has "to do with gateway procedures in terms of prevention . . . and putting off more serious types of intervention programs." Shalala responded that she believed health professionals practicing in the various plans would strive to utilize methods of alternative treatment that are found effective. "I have no reason to believe that the health professionals of this country, when presented an alternative way of improving the health of an individual, wouldn't incorporate many of those proposals," she asserted. OAM "will, over time, change our attitudes and the kinds of medicines and approaches we use to benefit us," Shalala predicted. Currently, HHS is reviewing OAM projects and considering ways to disseminate the results of studies conducted under the auspices of the new NIH office, she reported. Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.) questioned the HHS secretary about the role of nutrition programs in the proposed health care plan. Nutrition, Shalala stated, is addressed "in a variety of different places" in the plan. She cited the administration's commitment to NIH in the area of preventive health research and the plan's "commitment to national public health outreach efforts in relation to nutrition." Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Penn.), noting the recent study on the relationship between prostate cancer and dietary fat published in the Oct. 6 Journal of the National Cancer Institute, indicated his specific interest regarding future plans in the area of nutritional research. In response, Shalala asserted that although the country "has not made a commitment to nutritional research in substantial amounts in many years," future investment in preventive nutrition research is "terribly important." She indicated that behavioral research on nutrition will be a primary focus of NIH nutrition programs. "To make Americans healthy, we need to know a lot more about what people eat, and in what quantities, and the range of nutritional issues, so that information can be passed on not only to the individuals -- because part of this new health care strategy [targets] individual responsibilities -- but also to health care providers," Shalala asserted.
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