IGNORING CONFLICTS OF INTEREST IN HEALTH CARE: THE HABIT (ISSUE 123)
By Diane Gold
Health Care means taking care of our bodies, minds and spirits. We do it in many ways: through eating food that nourishes us, doing great exercise, connecting with friends and family, being creative and productive, giving ourselves daily relaxation and getting good rest.
In all sectors that touch upon health care, there are conflicts of interest. We have the habit of ignoring them. In order to do research, we need money, so we sell products. These products may be less than perfect to save money and to make more. In order to live well, some of us may create partnerships and agree to job restrictions we never would have if we didn’t need the money. These are compromises. We all have made one. These are not unethical moves, in themselves. Ignoring the huge conflicts of interest that develop because of them is. Not making this disharmony common knowledge is!
HERE ARE SOME OF THE LARGE ACTORS OF CONFLICTS OF INTEREST IN HEALTH CARE!
Pharmaceutical companies are in the business of selling drugs. They are so strong that their global marketing messages lead people to become dependent upon drugs rather than interdependent upon a health care system that includes drugs as medicine. Since non-pharmaceutical cures for illnesses can reduce the profit to big pharma, the pomp and circumstance of big pharma overshadows preventive or non-drug therapies that treat or remove illnesses.
Drug companies don’t publish all their negative results so that they will have higher marks with the FDA; this event endangers health.
Drug companies pay for a great deal of research in medical schools. The results of these studies are privy to the drug company. Not that drug companies set out to change data, but the access they have may urge them to present the result in their favor.
Drug companies pay for doctor’s continuing education. Although doctors are not required to use the sponsoring company’s products, studies have shown that even the most ethical doctors are swayed by the sponsoring drug company.
HEALTH INSURANCE COMPANIES
Health insurance companies are another sector that creates conflicts of interest. The cost of insurance-reimbursable health care is so high that these companies foster the habit that they are the only way and that they are required. True, I would not want to be without health care as an almost 65-year-old citizen, but I do want to honor these comments from Jon Raymond, founder of Out In The Streets Films, from his article The Sadism Of American Health Care,
• Insurance is not healthcare.
• Insurance is premiums and co-pays
• Insurance companies are known to deny claims for expensive catastrophic conditions, such as cancer treatment.
• 61% of bankruptcies are due to medical debt.
• Many people in debt had insurance when they first got sick, but claims were denied.
• There are no regulations to require insurance companies to honor claims, or to regulate premiums.
• Cancer is a multi-trillion dollar annual industry
• Most all processed food outlets and chain restaurants sell carcinogenic foods.
• Good food, such as organic food, is more expensive than bad food.
• Health care costs are multiple times higher for the insured than the uninsured.
Because many government healthcare providers require that we have no assets or less than $2000 per month in assets, many middle class-ers are not willing to sell everything we have and go with no insurance so that, when we have a catastrophic illness, we can use government funding. Which is a great reason why the Affordable Care Act asks that we all have insurance of some kind.
There are multiple conflicts when it comes to insurance. When we go to doctors of our choice, they may cost more or not be part of our insurance carrier’s group. In order for doctors to be part of an insurance network, they have to reduce the amount they are willing to be paid. If they stay off the network, they don’t get all that free advertising that comes as part of a network.
Our doctors may be promoting a drug or treatment protocol so that they receive a bonus or good connection from a drug company or an insurance company. Most doctors will not promote what they don’t believe in; however their discussion of drugs from a company that favors them they give their patients urges other doctors to do the same, benefiting the original prescriber and the drug company. If the drug could have been replaced with exercise or good food, this non-drug strategy gets lost in the shadows.
Hospitals may charge extra amounts of money for insured patients because they know they will get reimbursed by insurance companies and not have to go to collection companies to collect their accounts receivable. Over-prescription of procedures has been found in hospital studies just to receive the insurance reimbursement. These factors increase health care costs.
MAJOR CORPORATIONS AND MIND/BODY SCIENCE
Most major corporations don’t get paid if they don’t have a product. So their research and development scientists rarely work on proving how mind/body workouts improve health. Corporations do make significant donations to companies for the greater good, but hardly ever in the sector that could reduce their own profit by our learning health care that didn’t involve a purchase. Therefore, we can’t depend upon scientists to do research to prove how exercise and mind techniques enhance and fix health, unless they are independently wealthy or want to do it on the side.
The fact that there is no scientific method study of mind/body work only means no one did the study, because there was no monetization from its positive outcome on the other end. Since marketing is everything, even when massive breakthroughs in medicine are realized; if there’s no product for capitalization or delicious marketing budget to publicize it, the public doesn’t get the information en masse; so research on the technologies of tai chi, meditation, yoga get neglected as to how they affect disease.
The other day, I saw a headline in The New York Times that mentioned how science had just proven the effectiveness of some mind/body technique. I burst out laughing because it seemed odd to me that a sophisticated newspaper in the year 2014 would headline a strategy that has been in glorious use for 5000 years as if it had just been discovered. Ludicrous!
MEAT AND DAIRY INDUSTRIES
The meat and dairy industries sell meat and dairy. So, naturally, they would not want to do studies proving that animal-based nutrition is bad for our health. Further, they would want to word their product descriptions in ways that the layperson would understand as,
“This product is good for your health.”
The perils of animal product in heart disease are becoming a more popular fad. We know that social proof(seeing lots of other people do the same thing) drives us to make that same decision. Therefore, plant-based nutrition is becoming more popular, in part because more voices are speaking out about it, including doctors and scientists, and, in part, because those voices who have been speaking out for years are being heard. Plus, the very youngest children are learning about the perils of meat and dairy at very early ages.
But, the more people learn about the benefits of plant-based nutrition, the more lobbyists the meat and dairy industries hire; and the more Congressional deals are there for the taking.
We might also consider the ethics of raising animals for slaughter, or, in the case of dairy cows, shortening their lives by 80% as long as cows who do not get milked by machine on a dairy farm or traumatizing pigs in tiny cages.
OTHER FOOD INDUSTRY COMPANIES
The food industry is out to sell its products. Companies that make all the products in the middle of the supermarket – those in boxes or packages – test their food to be safe. The safety requirement measures how a food affects a living animal or human on a short term basis.
Why would government regulators allow possible carcinogenic ingredients in our foods?
Many ingredients are questionably carcinogenic, meaning there is inconclusive evidence about these ingredients. It took 50 years for us to realize the perils of certain pesticides.
FDA regulators are friends with food manufacturers as well as big pharma. If they allow certain ingredients or substances to be approved for production, they are racking up points with these companies to become consultants at a later date. Kind of like, I’ll scratch your back now, so will you give me a consulting job in 5 years?
My solution is that one stipulation for every FDA and government regulator be that each is not permitted to consult or CEO for any company that has to do with food or drugs.
PESTICIDE AND GENETIC MODIFICATION COMPANIES
As with meat and dairy, the agribusiness companies that assist farm food to market make huge profits from the produce that is sold. This means that the production and promotion of pesticides and genetic modification have an opportunity for big profits, which is great, if we need the pesticides and if genetic modification is safe, since capitalism is good. However, powerful groups control this sector and may promote the use of pesticides that are not needed and genetically modify seeds/foods that have not been proven safe. Don’t we want our food proven safe beyond a reasonable doubt, rather than not yet proven harmful by all testing?
The conflict comes when we are harming our health for the sake of profit.
Finally, although there are conflicts in finance and natural resource manufacturing, too, we will close with media conflicts. Journalists have to omit some news. They report what their corporate heads allow, which often coincides with the voices of their advertisers.
Did you know there are only a few (6 or 7, depending upon whom you ask) major news companies? This means that the voice of media is controlled by a few men (yes, each CEO of these companies is a man).
For many industries, there are opportunities for conflicts with health care. The fact that they exist does not mean that we are doomed. It means we would do well to take it upon ourselves to be aware that they exist. The above categories are the major sectors that can conflict with our health care. There are more. Greed can make us lose our way. Power can do the same.
It is our responsibility as ethical humans to understand that we all form habits, habits of greed, power, consumption. It is not the fault of an industry to want to make money. Profit is healthy. It drives human productivity and discovery. It is not the fault of good human beings to be paralyzed by what these situations bring.
Instead, these conflicts of interest in health care are huge opportunities for us methodically to recognize them, discuss how they can compromise our well-being and sprout new solutions that will complement and balance out the wrongs. If we see what some people call greed mechanisms and others call capitalism, we can decide to devote our time to educate others. For some of us, this is a duty. For others, we can pass this article on just to one person.
Knowledge and awareness are power. Let’s no longer ignore the conflicts of interest in health care. They are real and are part of the human network.
ACTION STEP ONE
Know the conflicts of interest in health care, and eat well. Consider how funding drives decisions for all of us. Know that all our industries, factory farmers, health insurers, medical personnel and facilities, our research companies, government regulators are run by profit. And all the sectors fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Think about it. If I do you a favor, according to scientific studies, you will unconsciously be more amenable to doing me a favor. If we all do each other favors, our impartiality has a strong chance of being compromised, no matter how objective and unbiased we say we are.
So, we must trust that the news is written so that advertisers are happy. Drugs are regulated so that drug companies who donate doctor education, academic research funding, and money to all who promote them, are happy. Academia likes companies who give. Doctors and hospitals are bound by insurance companies. The world of marketing creates stories about food and health for profit so that we buy more pharmaceuticals, meat, dairy, GMO seeds, pesticides and addictive sugar products.
ACTION STEP TWO
Now that we know, we can pass it on by having a discussion about it with, at least, 1 person.
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DIANE GOLD, AUTHOR
Diane Gold, Founder of Warriors of Weight, Turning Habits Into Health, is a mentor in tai chi, kung fu and meditation, a music, fitness and stress expert, dedicated mom, studying plant-based nutrition and habit change.
She loves to facilitate learning. She says,
“As long as we are breathing, doomsday is not here. If we see conflicts running through the fabric of our societies, this is a great discovery and a wonderful chance for change. Aside from educating others, it is motivating for me to create some different infrastructure. By ignoring the conflicts of interest among all the different sectors, we put aside our great gift to help fix society.
“And that’s OK, except we might be really good at it. So, let’s take the opportunity to create new pathways around these conflicts and excel. The relationships that cause the conflicts of interest will not be changing slowly. Therefore, let’s get started by walking around them.”
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