Reevaluation, vision and opportunity
In times of trouble or when crisis strikes, what is most important to us usually becomes crystal clear. The global pandemic and the surging movement to finally end systemic racism have sharpened that clarity for IHPC through its mission to eliminate barriers to health for All. Over the last four months that has translated into increasing our advocacy with lawmakers to meet the immediate needs of the integrative health community, to elevate the efficacy and fiscal importance of a wellness approach to health, and to seize new opportunities to impact the healthcare debate during this time of extraordinary change.
This week, as a result of these efforts and the leadership of the Congressional Health and Wellness Caucus co-chairs, Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA) and Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (R-IN), as well as Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH), the House Appropriations committee added language directing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Veterans Affairs Administration (VAA) to implement measures that will expand the availability of integrated health services and open new opportunities for integrative health providers. Specifically, HHS is to implement recommendations of the HHS Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Report and VA is to expand its ground-breaking Whole Health System of Care program. You can review specific language of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Bill here and the Miliary Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill here.
IHPC Executive Director, Tracy Bowen, stated, “The inclusion of this language is a major step forward toward meeting our larger objective of having integrative health recognized as a cornerstone of our nation’s healthcare system.” The early days of the pandemic saw Bowen and the group’s Capitol Outreach Team shifting their focus to aggressively address integrative health issues relevant to the pandemic such as telehealth, insurance reimbursement and inclusion in legislation for healthcare pandemic relief. “When the COVID crisis came into full swing, our first concern was to get support for integrative health professionals during this difficult time,” said Bowen. “We also recognized that this crisis presents a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the critical importance of integrative health professions and a wellness approach to healthcare.”
“The pandemic has highlighted many of the deficiencies of our current healthcare system, which has prioritized acute and reactive care instead of prevention, lifestyle modifications and wellness for chronic disease,” noted David Fogel, MD, CEO and co-founder of CHI Health Care, and an IHPC at-large board member and co-chair of IHPC’s Policy Committee. Because IHPC has now established a place at the table for emergency relief, Fogel said, it will help the group remain relevant for further dialogue and opportunity in the future. “We are advocating for language and strategies that will affect the larger footprint of health and wellness for years to come, and our current engagement with congressional leaders is establishing momentum for our long-term core policy agenda,” Fogel added.
As the group developed new strategies and priorities, Bowen and the IHPC board kept coming back to one essential truth. “We realized that our COVID efforts must reflect our mission of eliminating barriers to health — to provide access to wellness approaches to health.” The brutal murder of George Floyd and the subsequent national upwelling to end systemic racism elevated IHPC’s dialogue about health disparities and structural inequities, sharpening the focus on eliminating barriers to health for All. “We are deeply committed to our own internal work of equity, diversity and inclusion and to elevating our policy focus on access to wellness care in underserved populations.” Bowen noted.
An Enduring Mission in a New Normal
IHPC continues to watch and advocate for inclusion of the integrative health community in future Congressional COVID-19 economic relief packages, but the group is also redoubling their efforts on their core policy agenda. IHPC believes that its mission to eliminate barriers to health by championing systemic change to U.S. healthcare and prioritizing health creation over reactive disease management is now more meaningful than ever. IHPC’s 2020 four key focus areas continue to be relevant:
- Expand awareness of the nation’s pain and opioid crisis, which has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, and advocate for accessible, non-pharmacological approaches to pain management.
- Elevate a whole person model of care that champions a patient-centric and interdisciplinary care team.
- Advocate for veteran’s health by promoting the Veteran’s Whole Health program, a federally funded systems-approach to healthcare.
- Support the nation’s Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), a system of Community Health Centers which provides health services to more than 29 million uninsured or underinsured people nationwide, and advocating for their use of integrative health professions.
As the world shifts to a new standard of social engagement through virtual events, IHPC is finding that it can actually access a much larger audience than ever. “Because we are no longer limited to physical space and time to go from one office to another, we can reach a lot more people at the same time, and it makes it easier for staff to tune in or watch a recording later,” Fogel said. As a result, IHPC, in collaboration with the Congressional Integrative Health and Wellness Caucus, will host a virtual congressional briefing on July 24th (see the invitation here). “What always gets the attention of staffers on the Hill is an event that will impact a member’s constituents,” said Fogel. These virtual events, he explained, are “gaining momentum because they offer the possibility of a much broader audience interested in these issues, who will be writing, calling and emailing their members of Congress.”
As IHPC continues to adapt to the immense challenges brought about by COVID-19 and to respond to its enhanced mandate to eliminate barriers to health for All, the group has discovered new energy and meaning in the tasks at hand. Even though things are changing at lightning speed, the challenges are fueling the IHPC membership’s passion and energy to support the mission of IHPC.