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American Association for Health Freedom Strengthens Organization, Steps up Federal and State Action PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

American Association for Health Freedom Strengthens Organization, Steps up Federal and State Action

Summary: The American Association for Health Freedom (AAHF), founded in 1992, focuses its federal and state action on protecting access to alternative/integrative medicine and dietary supplements. AAHF sent an early 2007 message announcing organizational growth and a number of significant new initiatives. So what happened? Where did the money come from to stimulate AAHF's new activity? Where will the AAHF focus its federal lobbying work? The Integrator contacted Brenna Hill, AAHP executive director, for some background and clarity on where AAHF is headed in its efforts, as it has clarified the AAHF mission, to "protect the right of the consumer to choose and the practitioner to practice."  The Integrator reflects on the Janus face of our uneasy overlapping of the politics of polarization with the politics of integration.

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Image Lobbyists in Washington, DC for integrative medicine and the distinct natural health care disciplines are few and far between, with the exception of chiropractic and the natural products industry. Even the relatively powerful Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine hasn't a regular lobbyist (1). It's a challenge to create much of a national impact in health care without walking those corridors.

The Integrator recently presented a profile of one organization seeking to forge a stronger national presence, the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC). The IHPC was strengthened in 2006 under the direction of Janet Kahn, PhD.

Another player on the federal scene - and also gathering momentum - is
the American Association for Health Freedom (AAHF), led by Brenna Hill. The AAHF has new federal lobbyists, new state chapters, new members and a new tagline:

"Protecting the right of the consumer to choose
and the practitioner to practice."


   

New Developments
at AAHF



Federal lobbying

AAHF contracted with two lobbyists
(1 R, 1 D) to work on health freedom.

State chapters
 

New state chapters in Washington,
Ohio and Connecticut others
in development.

Key Action Zone:
State of Washington

Focus is "appalling attacks against
both licensed and non-licensed
practitioners." State coordinator
will be Merrily Manthee.(3)

New Website

The AAHF's 501c3 affiliate
Health Freedom Foundation
will increasingly be it's base.

Four New Staff
 

Focusing on campaigns, state
chapter development, office
and membership.

International Affiliation

UK's Alliance for Natural Health


Source: AAHF e-letter,

January 10, 2007


In AAHF's e-letter, executive director Hill revealed that AAHF has been "busy (and quiet) the past few months putting things in order, but we’re now ready to start shouting from the rooftops what we’ve been doing!"

The Integrator contacted Hill about the developments (see side-bar) and the new website for its charitable affiliate, the
Health Freedom Foundation (2). Hill was quite forthcoming with insights about AAHF's direction as well as its organization-building strategy.

Integrator:  Congratulations on the growth. So .. where did the money come from?

Hill: The money came from a variety of sources. For instance, we had a national ad campaign for the Health Freedom Foundation during the summer of 2006 that reached over 1 million readers. It brought a couple hundred new members. Actually, the Foundation had never reached out to members before so that was something new in itself.

Integrator:  Where did you choose to advertise?

Hill:  A half-dozen publications. Energy Times. Life Extension. Taste of Life. Remedies. A couple of others.

Integrator:  But to advertise and do the rest of your work - I'm curious where you found the money.

Hill: We have a few wonderful large donors who are helping to bring in other philanthropists. We have a few new corporate sponsors since last year as well. Some of the state chapters are providing some money. And we're reaching out to a broader base of health care professionals (as well as the consumer). This year, we're entering into some new markets to help spread the word. So we're finally seeing some diversity in our revenue stream which is allowing us to make investments in areas to be more successful and to tap into powerful human resources as well.

Integrator:  What made the change and growth happen now?

Hill: A lot of factors came together - timing, persistence and flexibility. We have strong history from Candace Campbell's work (AAHF's founding executive director). I brought something new in perspective and expertise and a marketing background. One of the things that helped us to turn the tide was the new, large donor who came and is helping us to reach out to other large donors. 

Integrator: No name, huh?

Hill:  He prefers anonymity. I can say that while he has an investment background, he has no financial interests in health freedom. He's a consumer who strongly believes in our work. He has deep knowledge of nonprofits as he helped to build the World Wildlife Fund in the 70s & 80s.

Integrator: Other factors?

Hill: The second factor was bringing new energy to our Board, which has gone through a turnover.  Our board members are active participants in strategy and direction. We use monthly calls, an online project management board and twice a year, in person face-to-face board meetings. It is their support, productivity, and advice that is allowing us to do what we're doing. So basically we've had a new and large donor who opens doors, a board revitalized, and we are investing in tools and people.

 

AAHF's Key Federal
Action Areas

Find 2 or 3 excellent
candidates for
NCCAM director 
__

Administrative issues
regarding adverse events
reporting law

__

FDA's regulation of
functional foods.
__

Congressional hearing
on the status of
integrative medicine


 
Integrator: How many people are involved with AAHF now? What is your total membership?

Hill:  We have about 20,000 activists in our data base. These are people who have written a letter on some issue or taken some action. Our membership is at just under 1000.

Integrator: What are you looking to do in the way of lobbying in Washington, DC?

Hill
:  A number of things. We are trying to come up with 2 or 3 excellent candidates for the new director of the (NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine).  We will be dealing with the adverse events reporting law for dietary supplements that passed last year.
(See related Integrator articles here and here.) We submitted our view on the FDA's regulation of functional foods. That comment period was extended from January to March. We plan to also push for a Congressional hearing on the status of integrative care in the United States.

Integrator:  Interesting line-up. There may be other organizations which might want to work with you on that hearing on integrative medicine. How are you for collaboration?

Hill:  We believe in working with other organizations out there. I know that our president, Sherri Tenpenny, DO has been in touch with (others) to see where we can collaborate.
 
Integrator:  Thanks for your time.

(1) In truth, most of the Consortium's member medical schools have lobbyists and some members are working through those lobbyists on various federal projects.


(2) AAHF is a 501c4 lobbying entity (like the IHPC). The Health Freedom Foundation is AAHF's sibling, 501c3 charitable organization. For those of you who want a briefing on the relationship between charitable organizations (501c3), not-for-profit lobbying organizations (501c4) and political action committees which can make direct donations to candidates (PACs), the AAHF group, which includes all 3, has published a short primer here.

(3) Manthee was the energy behind the widely-publicized, pioneering integrated community medicine-based natural medicine clinic established by Community Health Centers of King County in conjunction with Bastyr University in 1995.

Comment:  While I am generally supportive of the AAHF - and have enjoyed a collegial and friendly relationship with Hill as with her predecessor Campbell (with whom I have worked closely) - I have conflicting feelings about the AAHF's tactics and agenda. This conflict is at the heart of what is perhaps most challenging in the politics of our time and in the politics, specifically, of "integration."

 
There is something
like original sin here.

People join
more quickly out

of fear than they do
to create. 

And they more easily
gather to create than
they do to self-police.

The circle is vicious.

The opportunities for
healing are often
washed out by
polarization's
searing heat.



The organizing context for AAHF's work is one that the Bush administration would approve: terror. Threats to practitioners. Threats to dietary supplements. Threats to patient choice. To protect yourself, act now! See the AAHF list of threats here along with what the AAHF can do about them. The AAHP is, in a sense, selling protection.

As a person who has been around awhile, I can understand this approach. Protection has been needed. Government agencies have many times been political agencies of suppression against alternatives to conventional medicine. A present case is the struggle Cancer Treatment Centers of America is having in building an inpatient cancer center in the Seattle area. As discovered and reported in the Integrator article here, a state agency appears to be acting with a bias which supports existing cancer treatment over a more integrated model.

I also understand the value of this approach from the perspective of
a sometimes organizer. People respond and join more quickly out of fear than they do to create. There is something like original sin in this human characteristic. And while challenging, people more easily join forces to create than they do to engage the self-policing work in dealing with one's shadow. Organizing is easiest based on fomenting outrage against the worst of the other. The circle is vicious. Opportunities for healing are often washed out by polarization's searing heat.

In such battles, also washed out are one's own shadows, the creeps in one's own closet, the jailbirds in the family line. The conflict I feel with AAHF's positioning is connected to this. Is there a failure to see and own our own weaknesses here, our own part in what creates the battle at hand?

I can think of two aspects of AAHF's that may answer this in the affirmative:

  • Opposition to adverse events reporting for supplements  A favored AAHF target is the FDA which arguably has earned such vehement opposition. Yet the FDA's past behavior is not sufficient reason to oppose adverse event reporting legislation for dietary supplements as AAHF unsuccessfully did in the 109th Congress. (See related Integrator articles here and here.) Experience suggests that AAHF should advocate such reporting for an industry where we know that there are low-dog companies have been known to lace their natural products with pharmaceutical agents. Supporting such reporting is also reasonable given the routine lapses in supplement quality in the industry. Wouldn't it be great if a consumer and practitioner advocacy group like AAHF supported the consumer in a campaign to demanding quality in natural products?

  • Support of so-called "traditional naturopaths"   AAHF seeks in their positon statement on NDs to support both the licensed naturopathic physicians associated with federally-recognized accrediting agencies, and the so-called "traditional naturopaths." The latter group fights against licensing and lobbies against accreditation. These individuals typically purchase their large "Doctor of Naturopathy" certificates through short courses from mail-order schools. The most visible and influential of these businesses then turns around and sells its own natural product line to those it certificates. This group adopted the title of "traditional" (it sounded better than "mail order") even though the profession was founded 100 years ago at roughly the same time as osteopathy and chiropractic with a parallel plan to be a licensed practice of medicine. Is this a legitimate "doctorate" in a field of medicine? Would AAHF find this defensible? Or do we have people masquerading as "doctors" under the cover of so-called freedom of choice?

There are a glass houses inside of glass hours in the integrated care and supplement industries, as there are inside $2-trillion plus medical industrial complex. I usual find myself thinking about what's being hidden when anyone speaks of an evil empire out there some place. I would hope that in AAHF's growing strength and maturity some of the finger pointing, and work, can go inward to the ways we are threatened not by what is outside of us, but to help mend what's inside.

I welcome debate on this and have invited Hill to respond. Meantime, it's good to have renewed strength in AAHF as an organization which is working hard to have our backs for us. Good protection can be critical sometimes.

Disclosure: Twenty years ago I worked closely with the standard setting of the licensed naturopathic profession and have more stories than any of you would want to hear about the rise of the so-called "traditionals"  in the slip stream of that successful work to resusitate a profession. Bottom line: the mail-order group (and the price on a mail order degree) have risen in direct relationship to the acclaim the licensed group has gained (accredited schools, federal recognition, engagement in research, publication in mainstream and peer-reviewed venues, public policy participation, favorable media, etc.). The ugly irony is that the mail-order group has fought against virtually all of the above. They gained because they are mistaken by patients for the other, licensed group about which, and from whom, the public has heard. Protecting the public against this kind of mistaken identity is exactly what solid consumer protection should be.

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for publication in a future Your Comments article.


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