It is hard to go through the day without hearing about the high cost of health care in the United States. According to the journal, Lancet (Nov 20; 364(9448):1829-30), we spend over $2 trillion on health care; this represents about 15% of our GDP (gross domestic product). If American health care were its own economy, it would be the fourth largest in the world. In other words, we spend more on health care than the entire economies of all but three countries in the world.

Health care in America is expensive and it is getting hard for many to afford it. General Motors spends more on worker health care than it does on steel for a new automobile. About 15% of all Americans cannot afford health insurance and about 23% of the working population is uninsured.

What is worse is that we do not get very much for our money. According to an article published in the Washington Post (May 5, 2004), Americans can expect the correct diagnosis and treatment less than 60% of the time. The United States is 18th in infant mortality and 21st in longevity among the nations of the world. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association ( 2000; 284(4):483-5), 225,000 Americans die each year from iatrogenic (doctor-caused) causes, making it the third most common cause of death in this country.

What many of us don’t realize is that health care is a business, and treatments have much to do with marketing and profitability. Drug companies are enjoying enormous profits in this environment. Let’s just take one drug company, Pfizer, in 2002 shareholders had $9.2 billion in after-tax earnings (a 28% profit). Almost two-thirds of Americans currently use medicines, 49% use prescription drugs, and 30% use nonprescription medications. About 32 million Americans are taking three or more medications daily.

There is some fallout from this reliance on drugs. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (1998;279:1200-5), administration of drugs in hospitals leads to adverse effects in more than 2.2 million patients and results in about 100,000 deaths per year.

Perhaps we need a new paradigm. Natural health care focuses on improving the body’s infrastructure and improving health. This approach is safer and less expensive than manipulating symptoms with drugs; we should try to get to the cause of health problems. Not to say that drugs should never be used, but they should be used cautiously and wisely.