In Defense of Suzanne Somers

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Okay, so even I think she is not the brightest bulb in the room – a wee bit similar to her “Three’s Company” role. But I have a few comments in her defense on the latest Dateline show, “A Dose of Controversy.” (Scroll down to Feb 20th episode.)

Somers is being hated on by the medical establishment as well as much of the conventional media because she speaks out in favor of alternative medicine – that is, alternatives to chemo, drugs, and the medical establishment’s way of merely chasing after symptoms instead of curing and preventing disease. In 2001 she was treated for breast cancer, though she rejected chemotherapy. In 2008, Somers was misdiagnosed with cancer and she was urged to immediately seek chemotherapy. She talks about how she was given no other alternatives for treatment. For anyone who has had a loved one(s) suffer from cancer (I qualify), you know that there is a very conventional path that doctors – who run the cancer establishment – lay out for their patients.

It turns out Somers didn’t have cancer, and thus she has turned toward alternative medicine and has since become a spokesperson for choice in medical treatment. The New York Times took to slamming on Suzanne for challenging mainstream cancer treatment and promoting alternative practitioners. Indeed, some of the practitioners she may promote may be a bit off camber, or even ineffective quacks. But it is important to stress that, in light of the self-ownership principle, it is each individual’s choice to determine what is most suitable for them based on their own preferences and wishes.

In the Dateline segment, perhaps the worst comments were made by Dr. Barrie Cassileth, Chief of Integrative Medical Services for Memorial Sloan-Kettering, a traditional cancer powerhouse. Dr. Cassileth has a special problem with a little guy in Texas, Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, who uses alternative means for treating cancer patients, many of whom have sworn he treated their cancer successfully and gave them a new life. Whether Burzynski is a quack or not, I do not know. Rather, a point of this show was that it is somehow evil for alternative doctors, like Burzynski, to charge patients up front – fee for services – because there is no insurance coverage. Cassileth notes that this practice is unheard of in mainstream medicine, yet it is “very common for people who work on the periphery.”

Since I pay up front, in cash, for services at the Center for Holistic Medicine, the clinic of the famed Dr. Brownstein, I suppose this must qualify these holistic medical doctors as “working on the periphery” (meant as a negative connotation). Such payments are not unheard of in mainstream medicine. In fact, people who receive mainstream treatment for many services often have to pay office visit deductibles (amounts that doctors know can’t be charged to the third-party insurer) or other uncovered charges before they walk out the door, otherwise they are charged additional late fees.

The complication in mainstream medicine is that you have a third-party insurer which must be billed, along with perhaps Medicare. And beyond all of that, the claims, adjudication, and billing processes behind the scenes are so convoluted that the charges cannot possibly be known up front, which is why patients aren’t charged beyond deductibles and non-covered items.

When I walk into my holistic clinic, I know exactly what the charges will be because the services provided are outside of the rigged system, and the bureaucracy and politics of insurance contracts has been eliminated. I pay cash, and I receive the expected services as they were conveyed to me. Mainstream medicine, however, relies on lobbying power, government laws, strategic contracts between insurance companies and providers/hospitals, negotiated rates and fees, government payment in the case of Medicaid and Medicare, and a whole mishmash of twists and turns that complicate the billing process. This is why mainstream medicine can’t immediately charge patients for services.

Yet it is deemed credible for very old, established, and profitable businesses within the medical establishment to condemn fee-for-services practices on the part of medical practitioners who work outside of the rigid and conventional system that would force them to treat their patients according the the established rules?

7:05 pm on March 4, 2011