As Americans and leaders of the industrial world, it is time we move forward, not backward, with national health care. In doing so, we also must employ broader, more holistic strategies that improve health and reduce costs.

As officials in Washington struggle with how best to provide quality, affordable health care to Americans, they should take a lesson from 50 years of success of the community health center movement, also known as federally qualified health centers.

In the early 1960s, a young doctor, H. Jack Geiger, was studying in South Africa and witnessed how community- based health care brought about health improvements for the poorest citizens of that country. With others, he went on to establish the first community health centers in America, which today serve over 9,800 communities across our nation.

Unlike Geiger, we don’t need to travel far to continue learning about other cultures’ approaches to medicine and wellness, as we have a thriving community health center in our region with patients from many cultures across the globe.

Greater Portland Health, a federally qualified health center, was funded as a startup under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. It began as a partnership involving the Public Health Division of the city of Portland, a volunteer, community-based board of directors and collaborating local health and social service organizations.

The health center took off like wildfire, as we sought to open access to the almost 25,000 local residents who did not have a regular primary care doctor and either relied on the emergency rooms of local hospitals or received no care at all. In its first eight years, Greater Portland Health grew from just a few hundred patients to nearly 9,000 with a more than $8.2 million budget.

Inherent to the community health movement is that the best outcomes are achieved with what happens outside the exam room: connections to community, centeredness, access to job opportunities, good nutrition and a safe place to sleep at night. This is a broader but vital definition of health and wellness.

But even this approach must go further to truly help all people achieve good health. If we embrace long-standing health practices of culturally diverse communities, they can complement traditional Western medicine in achieving wellness. So what does that look like?

Of course, good health relies on good medical care (e.g., diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, vaccines, therapies, counseling), but it could be so much more effective with complementary approaches. Yoga, tai chi and qigong have been shown to quiet the mind and improve both physical and mental health. Research also indicates that meditation can help increase quality of life and/or reduce symptoms in people with illnesses like asthma, cancer, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome and high blood pressure.

Twelve-step recovery programs bring freedom from drug and alcohol addiction to millions of people. It’s been demonstrated that music, drumming, dancing and singing can change brain activity in ways that heal psychological trauma. Therapeutic massage has been shown in studies to be an effective treatment for stress, pain and muscle tension. Evidence indicates that whole food, plant-based diets improve every aspect of our physiology and help combat chronic disease. We can do so much more if we are willing to listen and change.

The World Health Organization defined “health” in 1948 as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” But here we are in 2017, when access to primary care still remains a challenge for 62 million Americans: people without resources to manage common chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease. We must not allow special interests or narrow ideologies to drive the debate. We must play offense and expand coverage for all Americans.

The joy of health should not be elusive in this great country nor available only to those who can afford insurance. Preventive care that addresses the physical, mental and social well-being of every American needs to be the starting point of change, not how to cut at least 22 million people from access so that the wealthy can have a tax break measured in billions of dollars.

Here’s a timely prescription: Maybe those in Congress should try cooking and sharing healthy food with one another, practicing gratitude, exchanging a few hugs and meditating before they vote. Americans, new and old, would surely be better for it.

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