IT'S ANOTHER ELECTION YEAR, and some polls show that Democrats are making a comeback following long reign of Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate. As such, both parties are scouring the country in search of Independent and so-called “swing voters” to create a majority.
The real question is not which of the "Republicrats" take power, but whether we will force them to act on the issues we hold dear.
Every election cycle, Americans hear incessant talk about health care. The Democrats speak to the uninsured and the underinsured, seniors, and minority populations, while Republicans often appeal to middle-class and more affluent voters. One year ago, Republican leaders in the House claimed that the Medicare reform bill passed in Congress was a major success for consumers. Well, we know that it was a major windfall for the drug companies, but beyond that, Medicare is a deeply flawed and expensive program for senior citizens, who are now at the mercy of the petrochemical profiteers.
Unless the dialogue changes dramatically in the coming months, both parties could miss an opportunity to influence what is undoubtedly the largest untapped “niche” in American politics - the 150 million-plus citizens who use alternative, or “complementary” medicines. Even the World Health Organization - which is primarily aligned with conventional methodologies — acknowledged in its’ treatise on “traditional medicines” that 158 million adults use these medicines in the United States.
What is not revealed in the WHO study is the astonishing breadth of this grassroots movement, which cuts across nearly every religious, cultural, socioeconomic, and, yes, political genre in America. As considerable consumer data accumulates about both the political leanings and buying habits of this massive niche, however, alternative medicine users remain the “bastard child” of politics - with no one political party willing to claim them. Even Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic populist from Cleveland who strongly supports alternative medicine, refused to raise the issue during the numerous Democratic debates during his presidential campaign in 2004, choosing instead to champion single-payer medical coverage for every American.
Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), however, has also been a champion of health freedom at every turn — and he recently introduced House Bill 4282, the Health Freedom Protection Act, with Democratic co-sponsor Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and a bevy of bi-partisan supporters.
For the record, I am one of 100+ individuals and companies who joined the Coalition to End FDA & FTC Censorship, a group run by attorney Jonathan Emord. Emord, backed by the powerful and enigmatic leader Dr. Julian Whitaker, Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw and an assortment of health freedom organizations like the American Association for Health freedom (AAHF), has repeatedly defeated the FDA in court. This time, Emord and his supporters are ratcheting up the pressure in this highstakes challenge. I have written TV ads for for national television as part of this important campaign.
HR 4282 prevents the FDA from “denying those who sell dietary supplements from reprinting or distributing United States Government publications (or accurate quotations from those publications) that explain the effect of nutrients on disease.” It also effectively overrules an FDA policy that prohibits companies that sell dietary supplements from distributing these government publications (or accurate quotations from those publications) that discuss how nutrients (of a kind contained in the dietary supplements sold) cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent disease.
But HR 4282 doesn’t stop there. It aims to allow for certain “qualified health claims” and reverses FDA decisions that have refused to allow health claims for dietary supplements “against the weight of the scientific evidence.” The Bill specifically mentions saw palmetto extract for treating the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia; omega-3 fatty acids for reducing the risk of coronary heart disease (without qualification); omega-3 fatty acids reducing for the risk of sudden death heart attack; glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for reducing joint stiffness and pain associated with osteoarthritis; and calcium reducing the risk of bone fractures.
So far, this bill has 14 original co-sponsors, but again, if you are interested in securing your health freedom, please call or write your Congressman and pressure your Senator to sponsor a similar bill in the Senate.
The buying power of alternative medicine consumers was made quite clear when one examines a market research study called the National Family Opinion poll, conducted in 2002. The NFO poll was compiled from a database of more than 550,000 U.S. households - and what emerged was a portrait of America’s burgeoning “silent majority.” This survey followed Dr. David Eisenberg’s landmark study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993, which grudgingly confirmed that “well over 100 million Americans” utilized what he called “unorthodox medicines.”
Eisenberg’s study, in addition to the WHO report and the NFO poll, confirmed not only the sheer numbers of Americans using alternative medicines, but perhaps more importantly, that Americans distrust what they are hearing from politicians, drug companies, insurance companies, conventional medicine establishments and the mainstream media about “the true state of health care in America.”
A key aspect of the NFO survey underscored the people’s “distrust of the media when reporting on matters of health.” The NFO survey study revealed that a whopping 41 percent of the general population do not trust major media to “tell the truth” about health and wellness information, and that consumers want unbiased information about alternative medicines.
Thus, just as “NASCAR dads” have become a force on the political landscape, so have alternative medicine consumers. Both are “consumer-driven” movements that defy conventional thinking, and both were propelled to the mainstream by a base of rabid “fans” - with NASCAR now being the most widely viewed sport in the history of America.
So one would think - with all of those voters at stake in what promises to be another close election for control of the Senate — that both parties would be courting this huge bloc of voters. But in fact, of the prominent politicians who could play an important role in Election 2006, only a few have taken a stand on this issue - and they are either Congressmen or governors, NOT Senators. Among the most prominent is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California — long a proponent of health freedom — said again recently that he adamantly opposes unbridled government regulation of dietary supplements.
According to The Associated Press, Schwarzenegger responded to a question about the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to ban the weight-loss aid ephedra one year ago by saying he was opposed philosophically to government regulation of supplements. “I have always campaigned against the FDA getting involved in food supplements,” he was quoted as saying at a recent event. Schwarzenegger also said there should be labeling and “a certain standard” for supplement safety, but said that if the FDA regulated supplements, “most of the costs of food supplements will go up,” and “I have very rarely seen the government do anything that was effective” in the area of regulating supplements.
Another outspoken leader is New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat who was mentioned briefly as a potential running mate for John Kerry in 2004. As a member of Congress, Richardson co-sponsored the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA) in 1994, before serving as President Clinton’s Secretary of Energy and as a United Nations ambassador. Richardson noted in a 1994 interview with me that his bill was introduced to help consumers in their “David and Goliath battle” for medical freedom of choice. “What we’re talking about here is millions of American consumers against FDA and big government — big bureaucracy,” he said at the time.
Using the B-vitamin folic acid as an example, Richardson noted how “the FDA had to be dragged kicking and screaming into giving license to folic acid,” which has been proven to prevent certain birth defects in children. “This vitamin, which is known to be safe and effective, was blocked for over a decade by the FDA,” Richardson said, adding that if the FDA had “spread the word sooner,” thousands of birth defects could have been prevented.”
Richardson’s visionary comments from a decade ago were again brought to light as a result of a report on folic acid from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a few months back. The study noted that by adding folic acid to one’s diet — a practice finally approved by the FDA in 1996 to prevent birth defects — the tragedies of neural tube birth defects were reduced by about 20 percent. In addition, the study also reported that folic acid also appears to have a striking effect against cardiovascular disease, preventing an estimated 48,000 deaths a year from strokes and heart attacks. In all, the researchers estimated that folic acid led to 31,000 fewer deaths from stroke and 17,000 from heart disease each year from 1998 to 2001.
So why wasn’t the information — first reported by maverick alternative medicine Dr. Jonathan Wright in 1981 — more widely disseminated before 1996?
“It is this bias against dietary supplements,” Richardson concluded, that makes consumers cynical about politics and government. “We don’t assume that the American people can make rational decisions,” he explained, countering the widely believed argument that Democrats feel the government “knows what’s best” for the populace and imposes its will on the people. “We over-regulate in our society. The American people - this growing grassroots movement - want the freedom to choose. Of course, we want the highest standards, we want quality, but we should provide the information and let the consumer make the decision.”
Ultimately, the success or failure of Congressman Ron Paul’s Health Freedom Protection Act will be a critical marker to the future of complementary alternative medicine in the United States. As tens of millions of independent voters who care about complementary alternative medicine examine the candidates’ records, there is a glimmer of hope if consumers decide to seize the day and force these sleepy-headed legislators into action.
For Republicans, Democrats and Independents who care about this issue, HR 4282 might be the only hope for expanding our medical freedom of choice on a nationwide basis, but it is too early to tell. The votes have yet to be cast, but once again, it is up to you to take action.
The fate of health freedom may lie with your willingness to take a stand. . .and make your voice heard. Financial contributions made by you will go directly to fund the nationwide TV campaign to pass the HEALTH FREEDOM PROTECTION ACT, and Mr. Emord guarantees that "100% of the contributions will be applied to purchase more media around the country." Donations can be made via credit card to the Coalition Fund by calling 202-466-6937.
I often hear from readers and others that they are frustrated by the lack of "action steps" they can personally take to impact medical freedom of choice. Here is a definitive way that you can help preserve — and expand — the rights we have come to expect as American consumers.
Let's fight back. . .and reclaim our freedoms before they are lost to the biased, uncaring bureaucracies at the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission.