Keeping California on the cutting-edge of health care reform

Keeping California on the cutting-edge of health care reform

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By Eric Nelson | | Twitter

LOS ALTOS, CA, Mar. 23, 2014 – It’s no secret that California is the bellwether of health care reform, at least from a legislative standpoint. Years before Obamacare came on the scene, politicians as diverse as Democrat Assembly Member (also Senator) Sheila Kuehl and Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a variety of plans that incorporated many elements now included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And when this new law mandated the establishment of state-level health insurance exchanges, California was the first to step up to the plate with “Covered California.” The question remains, however, whether we have what it takes to maintain our position on the cutting edge.

In one sense, we do. But perhaps not in the form one would expect.

Buried within two California laws that laid much of the groundwork for state-level implementation of the ACA is a provision that allows insurance providers to cover benefits over and above federal requirements, “including, but not limited to, spiritual care services that are tax deductible under Section 213 of the Internal Revenue Code.” Based on IRS rulings since this code was adopted some 50 years ago, these services might include treatment provided by religious practitioners and nurses (aka “religious nonmedical care”) as well as some Native American and holistic healing centers, all of which deal with both the curative and preventative aspects of health care.

Even before this law was enacted, there was nothing in California law prohibiting insurers from covering this kind of care. In fact, it’s already covered by a host of federal and state programs including Medicare, Medicaid, the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP), Tricare, and California’s own Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS). However, were this language not included, there’s a chance this fact might be compromised as the legislature works to implement cost control measures and impose medical oversight and/or evidence-based requirements on health plans offered both in and out of the state’s new insurance exchange. Such requirements could temper an insurer’s willingness to cover alternative methods of care that don’t conform cleanly to a medical model.

The challenge now is for insurers to not just be aware of this provision but to take full advantage of it, both for their own as well their customers’ benefit, and for California as a whole to keep pushing the envelope of reform.

Dr. Robert Faraci, a surgeon and former chief medical officer of a Colorado-based HMO, makes a strong case for doing just that. In testimony given before the Utah Health System Reform Task Force, he focused on three key reasons:

1. It works. “Our research indicated that people with strong spiritual beliefs often had better medical outcomes than those who did not have such beliefs,” said Faraci. “Subsequent studies at Duke and Harvard Medical Schools and a comprehensive review by the Mayo Clinic have reinforced these findings.”

Research being done at U.C. Davis, U.C. Berkeley, and Stanford University also provides ample evidence indicating that the mind imbued with such moral and spiritual qualities of thought as compassion, gratitude, and forgiveness can have a significant and measurable impact on one’s physical health.

2. It’s what people want. According to a study funded by the John Templeton Foundation (Managed Care Outlook, “National Briefs,” Jan. 1, 1999), 55 percent of Americans said they would choose a health plan that included spiritual and religious healing practices over a plan that did not.

3. It saves money. Where plans that cover spiritual care have been studied, Faraci noted that those utilizing spiritual care experienced much lower utilization than those who did not receive similar benefits.

Although adding spiritual care services to an insurer’s list of covered benefits will not in and of itself keep California at the forefront of health care reform, it is a step in the right direction – one that the public desires, that could save money, and that could have a very real impact on the health of our state and our nation.

Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs.

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